So what do you say to someone who comes up to you and asks you if you are “born again”? What exactly does that phrase mean anyway? For sure it means different things to many people. Some people think it means a life changing experience where you re-commit your life to Jesus. Others think it is a reference to baptism. This webpage will discuss some of those differences, and hopefully give you a biblical answer on what to say.
First off, the phrase “born again” was used in a conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, in John 3:3:
<1> Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.
<2> This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do, unless God is with him."
<3> Jesus answered him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."
<4> Nicodemus said to him, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?"
<5> Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
<6> That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
<7> Do not marvel that I said to you, `You must be born again.'
<8> The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with every onewho is born of the Spirit."
<9> Nicodemus said to him, "How can this be?"
<10> Jesus answered him, "Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand this?
<11> Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen; but you do not receive our testimony.
<12> If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?
<13> No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven, the Son of man.
<14> And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up,
<15> that whoever believes in him may have eternal life."
<16> For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
<17> For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.
<18> He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
<19> And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
<20> For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.
<21> But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God.
<22> After this Jesus and his disciples went into the land of Judea; there he remained with them and baptized.
The Greek word in the original text for “again” is “anothen”, which can more properly be translated as “from above”. So if we look at this terminology using “You must be born from ABOVE” instead of “You must be born AGAIN”, it takes on a slightly different meaning. Verse 5 above gives us a clue, when it says that
"Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. “
Born of water AND the Spirit is a clarification from Jesus on what it means to be born from above. Water and the spirit, when combined in the Bible, means a new beginning. In Genesis 1:1, we see the spirit moving over the water, creating the new earth. Later on, when Noah was trying to see if there was land appearing, he sent out a dove over the water, to see if the new earth was ready. And while the dove wasn’t the Holy Spirit, it certainly was a precursor to the Baptism of Jesus, where we see the Holy Spirit descend as a dove over the waters of Jesus’ Baptism. Jesus had no sins, and therefore didn’t need to be baptized, of course, but his baptism sanctified the waters of baptism for us all, and shows us what really happens during our baptism - The Holy Spirit descends from heaven to our bodies, His temple.
Clearly, being born again, or being born from above, is a reference to our baptism, which washes away our sins (Acts 22:16) and saves us (1 Peter 3:21). Jesus Himself, as if to show us that being born again is a reference to baptism, baptizes in verse 22 above, the only scriptural reference to Him baptizing anyone.
Some people think that baptism is only “symbolic”, and not necessary for salvation, but that would fly in the face of Acts 22:16 and 1 Peter 3:21. John the Baptist even said that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit, in Matthew 3:11.
Acts 22:16: And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name.'
1 Peter 3:21: Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
Matthew 3:11: "I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
There are several Old Testament “types” or precursors to the Baptism in the New Testament. The aforementioned water and the spirit creation story in Genesis and dove over the water in the story about Noah – the creation of the earth, and man’s new beginning after the flood. But the primary one concerns a Naaman the Syrian, in 2 Kings 5. He was a commander of the Syrian Army, but he had leprosy. He went to see the prophet Elisha to get cured. Elisha told him to wash 7 times in the Jordan river, and he would be cured. Why 7 times? Well 7 is one of those numbers in the bible that means perfection – God rested on the 7th day, there are 7 archangels, 7 sacraments, etc. And why the Jordan river? Well, that is the river where John the Baptist many years later would be baptizing converts. Naaman was at first skeptical of all this, thinking that Elisha should just pray for him and the healing would be done. But God, through Elisha, wanted Naaman to physically go get washed in the Jordan. So Naaman did as he was told, and his leprosy was cured. This is a type of Baptism, where the water cleanses us of our sins, instead of our leprosy. In other words, water Baptism does for the soul what the water washing did for Naaman’s physical impurity of leprosy. Other references to being saved through water include the Israelites going through the parted Red Sea to escape Pharaoh’s army, and Moses striking the rock (Jesus is The Rock) in the desert to bring forth water for the Israelites.
So the next time someone asks you if you are “born again”, just say “Yes, I have already been baptized, thank you!”