In honor of Easter and to gain a better understanding of what the season is all about, I am posting, with permission, a piece written by my husband, John R. Michael.
What is a “Born Again” Christian?
Have you wondered what the term “born again” means? Are you thinking about becoming a Christian yourself, but aren’t sure what it’s all about? Many people consider themselves to be Christians simply because they go to church, or because they try to be nice to people, or perhaps because they don’t belong to some other religious group. Sometimes such people are referred to as “cultural” Christians, meaning they tend to agree with traditional Judeo-Christian values. But this isn’t the same as being a genuine, born again Christian.
While some people incorrectly assume they are Christians because of their heritage or upbringing, other people think they can’t be a Christian because they grew up in some other religious tradition -- Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, or something else. But that’s not correct. For example, there are many Christian Jews (also known as Messianic Jews), and their number is increasing every day. And every year, thousands of Muslims are embracing Christianity after reading the Injeel – the New Testament – which is one of the sacred books of Islam. So, a person’s ethnicity or religious heritage does not determine whether he can or cannot be a born again Christian.
We are often uncomfortable talking about spiritual matters, because we consider these things to be personal. They are personal. But they are very important. Our spiritual condition and beliefs will ultimately determine how we live our lives, and what happens to our souls when this life is over.
So what is a born again Christian?
In a nutshell, to be “born again” means you are born first physically, and then later, you are also born spiritually. You enter into an eternal, spiritual relationship with God, through faith in His son, Jesus Christ. What is it about Jesus Christ that we are to have faith in? That will be explained in a moment. For now, consider this: We are told by Jesus in the Scriptures, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:3
Here are 4 key principles found in Scripture to help you understand how a person becomes born again and enters into this eternal relationship with God.
Principle #1. God's Nature: Loving and Holy
God loves you. He wants to bring you into an eternal relationship with Himself. Let’s look again at the verse mentioned above. Jesus said, “Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God...That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” John 3:3,6 Because God loves you, He wants you to be “born again”...to have a spiritual birth as well as a physical birth.
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.” John 3:16-17 God loves you, and wants to save you from eternal condemnation for your sins. He wants you to live eternally with Him in heaven.
God also wants you to have a full, abundant, and meaningful life on this earth. Jesus says,
“…I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” John 10:10,11
Verses like these teach us that God is loving, and wants us to pursue a fulfilling life through a relationship with Him. But Scripture not only teaches that God is loving. It also declares that God is Holy (set apart from worldliness; characterized by absolute moral perfection). In Leviticus 19:2 God says, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” The problem is that while God is holy – we are NOT holy. In fact, we are unrighteous sinners. If left in this sinful condition, we cannot be in a relationship with God. We see this more clearly in principle #2…
Principle #2. Your Nature: Selfish and Sinful
“There is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23
Everyone is a sinner, even you.
“For the wages of sin is death…” Romans 6:23. The penalty for sin is spiritual death, and eternal separation from God.
Even the good things that we are proud of are not adequate to make us righteous in God’s eyes. “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” Isaiah 64:6
Our “righteous” good works are like dirty clothes compared to the holiness and perfection of God, and they are completely insufficient for bringing us into an eternal relationship with Him.
What are some examples of good works that people hope will “earn” God’s favor? Do you go to church or synagogue? Give money to charities? Are you kind to people? Sincere? Do you try to keep the Ten Commandments, or the Golden Rule? Despite your good intentions, none of these “good works” is sufficient to solve your sin problem. “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in His sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” Romans 3:20 In other words, God’s laws and commandments don’t make us righteous; rather, knowledge of God’s standards helps us realize that we don’t measure up. We see that we are sinners, and separated from God.
So, if even our best efforts are insufficient to make us right before God, what hope do we have?
The answer is in principle #3…
Principle #3. God's Solution: Faith in Jesus Christ
Scripture teaches that faith in Jesus Christ is the key to our eternal relationship with God.
Let’s look again at John 3:16. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son (Jesus Christ), that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” Many people are at least generally familiar with this verse, but often haven’t thought seriously about its application to them. But this is a profound truth: Whoever believes in Jesus Christ will have eternal life!
The critical question is, what does it mean to “believe in” Jesus Christ?
Do we simply believe the historical fact that He lived on the earth? What is it about Christ that we are to believe, or have faith in? And how does this faith solve our sin problem?
Here are two key scripture references that address these questions:
“…All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forth as a propitiation by blood, to be received by faith.”Romans 3:23-25
“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would even dare to die – but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by His blood, much more shall we be saved by Him from the wrath of God.” Romans 5:6-9
We see that our righteousness comes not from ourselves, but from God. Even though we are sinners and unworthy, He gives us this gift of righteousness when we have faith (trust) in Jesus Christ. But what is it about Christ that we are to have faith in? We are to trust in the sacrifice of atonement that Jesus made for us when He died on the cross. Jesus atoned for, or "paid", the penalty for our sin when He bled, suffered and died. We deserve to suffer and die for our own sins, but Jesus Christ did that for us. He lived a pure and sinless life, yet He substituted Himself for us, receiving the punishment for sin that we deserve. As Romans 3:25 puts it, the shedding of Christ’s blood was the “propitiation” for our sins. That means Christ’s bloody suffering and death satisfied the righteous demands of God, whose holiness requires punishment for sin. When we trust (have faith in) this sacrificial work that Jesus performed for us on the cross, God’s requirement for punishment is satisfied, and He no longer counts our sins against us.
In summary, salvation is not something we deserve or can earn. It is something God did for us, through Christ's blood atonement on the cross. And while salvation is a free gift from God, a response is required from us. This gift is “to be received by faith.” Romans 3:25 It is a conscious choice, a decision to trust in Christ’s sacrifice for our salvation, and to enter into a life-changing relationship with the living God. Let’s look at the fourth principle to understand the implications of this “new birth”, and the changed life.
Principle #4. The Supernatural Result: A Changed Life
Remember what the scriptures told us in the passage above, in Romans 3:25 – this gift is “to be received by faith.” This is an active faith. It’s a conscious decision to trust the blood sacrifice of Christ for your righteousness. If you have made a decision to accept this gift by faith, your sins – past, present, and future – are forgiven and cancelled completely. Your sin no longer separates you spiritually from God, because Christ’s sacrifice has wiped your slate clean and brought you into an eternal relationship with Him. You are given a new beginning, a spiritual re-birth. You are “born again”, a child of God, a new creature. Because you are now a child of God, He gives you His Holy Spirit to indwell you, to become part of your life. The Holy Spirit helps you understand God’s will and purposes as revealed in Scripture, and helps you change into the person God wants you to be. Lets look at some Scripture verses that describe this changed life.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” II Corinthians 5:17
“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”I Corinthians 6:20
“…Those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.” Romans 8:5-9
“For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” Philippians 2:13
So, we see here that God’s Holy Spirit gives you both the desire and the ability to live in a way that pleases God. A changed life is the result, (not the cause) of salvation. Remember, we can’t “work for” or “earn” our salvation…it’s a gift from God. But when we accept this gift by faith, we begin a new relationship with God, and He gives us His Holy Spirit to indwell us and make us new from the inside out. The Spirit guides us into new, God-oriented desires and priorities. The changed life that focuses on pleasing God is the outward evidence that a person is born again.
How about you? Have you been trusting in your own “good works”? Maybe you’re like a lot of people… you sincerely try to be a good person, maybe you even attend church or synagogue regularly. But if you are honest, you would have to admit you don’t really know God. He hasn’t been the center of your life. And you don’t know with confidence that someday, when this life is over, you will spend eternity in Heaven.
Do you sense that God is working in your heart, bringing you to faith in Christ? Are you ready to start a new life, to be “born again”? If so, talk to God about it. Here’s a sample prayer:
I realize I have failed to love and serve you with my life. I have made many mistakes, and I have many faults. I am certainly an imperfect person. I acknowledge that I am guilty of falling far short of your perfection. The Bible calls these shortcomings “sin”, and I confess that I am indeed a sinner. In my present condition, I have no hope of being in a relationship with you. In fact, I agree with Scripture that my sin deserves eternal punishment…I am condemned to a state of eternal separation from you…this is what the Bible calls hell. In my present condition, I realize this is my ultimate destination.
But right now, I accept by faith that Jesus Christ died on the cross for me…that when He suffered and bled on that cross, He took my punishment on Himself. And I accept by simple faith the promise of Scripture – that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses me from all my sin, and allows me to stand before you in complete righteousness. Not my own righteousness, but the righteousness of Christ. Thank you for this free gift of salvation. Thank you for allowing Jesus Christ to be my personal Savior.
I trust that I am now your child – a true child of the living God. I ask you to change my life, so I can become more pleasing to you…not to earn the salvation that you have just freely given me, but as a loving response to that wonderful gift. Help me find a church that honors you and your Scriptures. Help me learn how to study and understand the Bible. And help me seek out other born again, Christian friends who can help me grow in my relationship with you.
Did you pray something like this? Did you mean it? Simply saying these words isn’t the point – God knows our hearts. But if your prayer is genuine, welcome to the world-wide community of born again Christians!
Written by John R. Michael, Louisville, KY Revised 7/3/08
Scripture quotes taken from the English Standard Version (ESV)
Please feel free to copy or forward this piece as often as desired. While minor improvements or enhancements are encouraged, if the substance of the material is changed in a meaningful way, please remove my name from the revised document. Thank you. JRM