WHAT IT MEANS TO BE BORN AGAIN
Copyright © 2012 Robert B. Thompson. All Rights Reserved.
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
The expression “born again” is used many times among Evangelical Christians. It does not appear in the Book of Acts, however. The Apostles did not preach to the multitudes that they must be born again.
Often when people say, “I have been born again,” they mean they have been converted to the Christian religion. They have not actually been born again. Rather, in their mind they have accepted Christian theology.
When I was first introduced to the Gospel, I read in a book that when one is born again, it is like entering a new world, so I expected some kind of experience. I was in the Marine Corps at that time. I went to a nightly Bible study in a Quonset Hut. The chaplain read, “If you will be My people, I will be your God.” At that point I felt God’s love. I said (whether out loud or not, I can’t remember), “Did God say that?” I was thinking to myself, it should be the other way around. We should say, “We will be your people if you will be our God.” It seemed to me that we should be doing the begging, not God. A naval officer, a doctor, I believe his name is Dr. Ralph Byron, stopped as I was leaving the Quonset Hut after the service. He led me through the four steps of salvation. It did not seem necessary to me at the time, but I was obedient.
When I walked outside, everything looked different. The stars looked brighter. I do not say everyone who is born again will have a similar experience; I had been set up for this by the book I read. In any case, it was real enough. I believe I am correct in saying that I was born again when God touched me in the Quonset Hut, when the chaplain was reading from the Bible.
Interestingly enough, some time later, before I had had a chance to write to my mother in Los Angeles, I received a letter from her. She wrote, “When I woke up this morning, there was what looked like a man standing at the foot of the bed. Somehow I could see his shoes. They were shining.” The man reminded her of me, because U.S. Marines must keep their shoes shined. “The man said, ‘I have been reborn and renewed.’ Then he disappeared.”
About two weeks after this, I felt discouraged. It was in the afternoon. I went into the Quonset Hut. There was a Bible open on the podium. Being desperate to hear from God (I do not recommend this procedure), I stood over the Bible, closed my eyes, and put my finger down on the page. Here were the words: “My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years and bring you prosperity” (Proverbs 3:1,2). I felt that God had spoken to me and was greatly encouraged.
As I am writing this, an incident came to my mind. It was years after this, when I was in Bible school. I had told the Lord during recess that I would obey Him completely. I would do whatever He said if He would give me the grace to do it. When we went into class after recess, someone began prophesying. He said, “If you mean what you say, it will be a blessing to many people.” That was in 1948. I meant what I said at that time, and God always has given me grace to do what He was directing me to do. Some people have told me that my writings have been a blessing to them.
Since those days in Bible school, I have read the Bible quite a bit. I have thought about many things, including what it means to be born again. I am under the impression we are using the expression incorrectly. The preaching today is that we must be born again to go to Heaven. Notice what the Lord said to Nicodemus:
In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” “How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!” Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:3-8)
The passage above is probably the most important Bible statement about being born again. Notice that it is not speaking of a mental conversion to a religion but of a kind of birth. Notice also that it is not talking about going to Heaven. We are born again so we can see and enter the Kingdom of God.
Heaven is not the Kingdom of God. Heaven is a city called Zion, or the new Jerusalem. At the present time, Zion is in the spirit world, although when we are born again, we spiritually have come to Zion. One day Zion, the new Jerusalem, the Bride of the Lamb, will be located on a high mountain of the new earth.
The Kingdom of God is born in us. The Divine Nature of God is born within us when we actually receive Christ, not when we are converted mentally to the Christian religion. A new personality has entered our adamic personality. Flesh gives birth to flesh, and God gives birth to God. It is just as simple as that.
The Lord Jesus Christ Himself is the Kingdom of God. That is why He said to His disciples, “The Kingdom of God is among you.” Christ was among them and so the Kingdom was among them. It was not within them at that time.
The Kingdom of God is the rule of God, the Word of God that is to be obeyed. At first it is conceived in us. Or, we might say, a little bit of the Kingdom is in us. I am sure that is what happened to me in the Quonset Hut. A little bit of God came into me on that occasion.
If the Kingdom of God is to come to maturity in us, then that little bit of God must be nourished, as in the parable of the sower. If it does not have the opportunity to send down roots, or if the Seed is choked out by other plants, then the Kingdom of God, Christ, does not come to maturity in us.
For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. (I Peter 1:23)
Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. (I Peter 2:1-3)
Notice the expression: “grow up in your salvation.” We see from this that growing in Christ refers to the growth of the Kingdom of God, the Seed of God, within us. Likewise, we are to “crave spiritual milk”, meaning I believe, the beginning principles of the Word of God.
In addition we, through the help of Christ, are to rid ourselves of the sins of the flesh.
There is an indication in the Bible that there will be a maturing of Christ in God’s people in the closing days of the Church Age. Let’s look at some of these passages:
Then the angel I had seen standing on the sea and on the land raised his right hand to heaven. And he swore by him who lives for ever and ever, who created the heavens and all that is in them, the earth and all that is in it, and the sea and all that is in it, and said, “There will be no more delay! But in the days when the seventh angel is about to sound his trumpet, the mystery of God will be accomplished, just as he announced to his servants the prophets.” (Revelation 10:5-7)
“There will be no more delay” reminds us of the following:
“Do I bring to the moment of birth and not give delivery?” says the LORD. (Isaiah 66:9)
It is my opinion that we are in the days when the seventh angel is about to sound. He has not sounded as yet. When he does, it will mark the end of the Church Age and Christ will return.
Notice: “there will be no more delay.” “The mystery of God will be accomplished.” What is the “mystery of God” that is to be accomplished?
To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27)
Have you noticed that throughout the Church Era, the emphasis has been on what Christ did two thousand years ago? It is true also there has not been much of an emphasis, even today, on Christ being with us, working with us. One does not often hear about what Christ is saying; it is about our plans to have a convention or a seminar. It seems as though Christian work proceeds along the lines of what we think He might be saying.
Sometimes the Great Commission is quoted as meaning that all Christians are to go forth in all the world to get people saved and to build churches, or to help financially those who do go forth to get people saved and build churches. It is not always expressed with equal fervency that we should ask the Lord what we should do about the commission given to the Apostles.
It is not enough to get directions from the Bible. The Bible is the general Word of God. In addition, God speaks to us personally as an individual. It is these personal directions by which we are to live.
Actually, the Great Commission is to go into all the world and make disciples, but making disciples is not always stressed. What is emphasized is the doctrine the missionary learned at home, that is, the “four steps of salvation.” Ordinarily, little or nothing is said by the missionary about the forming of Christ in us or about the Kingdom of God. The idea is to “accept Christ” so we will go to Heaven when we die; we need not concern ourselves overmuch with godly living, because we go to Heaven by grace.
In fact, to be a disciple, we must deny ourselves, take up our cross of death to self, and follow Jesus at all times. The idea of going to Heaven by grace does not always agree with the concept of becoming a disciple.
All that being as it may, the mystery of the Gospel is that the Kingdom of God is growing in us as Christ is growing in us. This mystery is seldom preached—at least where I have been.
Perhaps the reason for the dearth of the emphasis on Christ being formed in us has been that the Gospel of Christ-in-us has been reserved for the last days, that is, the period of time when Antichrist is given great authority and power by the Lord.
Revelation chapter 12 tells us about the closing days of the Church Age. There will be a group of brothers who overcome Satan by the blood of the Lamb, by the word of their testimony, and by loving not their lives to the death. The result of their victory is that God will give Michael and his angels the strength to hurl Satan and his angels down to the earth from their position in the heavenlies.
Meanwhile, the Church enters the travail necessary to give birth to a son, a male, who is to rule all nations with an iron scepter. The son, the male, represents the sons of God who are to judge and govern the creation with the Lord Jesus. The Seed of God has suddenly come to maturity. This is the fullness of the born again experience.
Now we turn to Isaiah:
Hear that uproar from the city, hear that noise from the temple! It is the sound of the LORD repaying his enemies all they deserve. “Before she goes into labor, she gives birth; before the pains come upon her, she delivers a son. Who has ever heard of such a thing? Who has ever seen such things? Can a country be born in a day or a nation be brought forth in a moment? Yet no sooner is Zion in labor than she gives birth to her children. Do I bring to the moment of birth and not give delivery?” says the LORD. “Do I close up the womb when I bring to delivery?” says your God. (Isaiah 66:6-9)
The “uproar from the city,” “the noise from the temple,” is speaking of the current day. The Lord Jesus is coming to His people. As a result, we are confessing our sins and turning away from them. This is an eternal judgment on Satan. This is the beginning of the Lord repaying His enemies all they deserve. It is the spiritual fulfillment of the Jewish Day of Atonement, and will last until the final resurrection of the dead.
The passage above states that before she (Zion) goes into labor, she delivers a Son (singular). Then when she does go into labor, she gives birth to “children” (plural.) I take this to mean that before Zion travailed, two thousand years ago, Christ was born. Today, Zion is travailing to bring forth her “children,” who actually are an enlargement of the original Son, the Male. They form the Body of Christ.
“Do I bring to the moment of birth and not give delivery?” Christ has been formed in the Church for two thousand years. Now it is time for the Church to be brought to delivery. Perhaps this bringing to delivery is related to Paul’s teaching about the manifestation of the sons of God, in Romans chapter eight. It always has been my impression that this manifestation is associated with the return of Christ.
First must come the ministry of the two witnesses. Then the rise of Antichrist. After that, Christ will return and the sons of God, which actually is the Son in the sons, will be revealed. This is how I see it.
Another passage that refers to the revelation of the sons of God is found as follows:
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor gives birth and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites. (Micah 5:2,3)
It appears that the birth of the sons of God, those in whom the born-again experience has come to maturity, will be accompanied by a restoration of the Jewish people. The restoration seems to be associated with the sons of God returning to the Jews. This reminds us of Paul’s expression: “all Israel shall be saved.” This shall take place, Paul said, when the full number of Gentiles has “come in.” I would guess this means come into the Olive Tree.
I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: “The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.” (Romans 11:25-27)
I would say from this that the sons of God, the brothers of Christ, will deliver the Jewish people from godlessness, from the power of sin. This would be one part of the great Day of Atonement, which has begun already with Christians who are listening to and obeying the Spirit of God.
It appears that great Divine interventions are virtually upon us. But everything hinges on the Church bringing forth the fullness of the born-again experience. Of course, this is an individual experience. I suspect that in the present hour, only a remnant of God’s people are in the place where they are living in obedience to the Spirit of God, and thus will be the ones who are brought forth from the womb of the Church.
There is no reason why you and I cannot be among the godly remnant who will experience the fullness of Christ in these days. But to enter this fullness, we must be living by the Life of Jesus today. This means that throughout each day and night we are giving each decision to Jesus, speaking to Him continually, inviting His Presence in all that we do. This kind of life might seem difficult or impossible to many who read my words. Actually it is quite possible for each one of us. But we must ask God in sincerity to enable us to live by the Life of Christ. If I am not mistaken, God is more than willing and able to accomplish this way of living in you and me.
(“What It Means to Be Born Again”, 3636-1, proofed 20210927)