Study The Bible Course
Lesson 16A: You Must Be Born Again
Published 2019 by the Continuing Church of God
Preface: This course is highly based upon the personal correspondence course developed in 1954 that began under the direction of the late C. Paul Meredith in the old Radio Church of God. Various portions have been updated for the 21st century (though much of the original writing has been retained). It also has more scriptural references, as well as information and questions not in the original course. Unless otherwise noted, scriptural references are to the NKJV, copyright Thomas Nelson Publishing, used by permission. The KJV, sometimes referred to as the Authorized Version is also often used. Additionally, Catholic-approved translations such as the New Jerusalem Bible (NJB) are sometimes used as are other translations.
SOME of the teachings in the Bible are a little hard to understand.
James tells us to count it all joy when trials, ordeals, and reverses beset us (James 1:2)
TROUBLES a JOY? That’s pretty hard to accept, isn’t it? And, for the average person, a lot harder to put into practice.
Few find any pleasure, let alone JOY, in the obstacles and troubles they encounter. Yet this Biblical teaching says we ought so to count them. There is a REASON, although FEW understand it.
In Psalm 34:19 you’ll read that the righteous are going to have to bear MANY afflictions. But, it promises, the Eternal will deliver us out of them all – IF we believe and trust Him!
Again, it is through MUCH TRIBULATION that we must enter the Kingdom of God (Acts 14:22, KJV). WHY? There’s a reason!
Now consider another Biblical teaching hard for some to understand.
In the fifth chapter of Ephesians, versus 22-23, you find a husband-wife relationship pictured as corresponding to Christ and the Church. Scriptural teaching assures us that, at His coming, Christ is going to MARRY the Church (2 Corinthians 11:1-2; Revelation 19:7). Also the Scriptures teach that the Church will, at His coming, be BORN of God, by the resurrection of all who have died, and the instantaneous conversion from mortal to immortal of those then living (1 Corinthians 15;50-53).
So one person reasons: Could a full-grown MAN marry an infant girl baby, just born? If those in the Church are to be just then BORN of God, how can they marry Chris before they grow up?
This, too, seems difficult for some to comprehend. Yet the answer to James’ teaching – the UNDERSTANDING of what James really means, is also the answer to this seeming inconsistency.
There is a third seeming inconsistency, hard for some to understand. Contrary to the thinking of many, a Christian may – and too often does – actually commit sin AFTER conversion. Christians SHOULD NOT, of course. But too often they do, and still remain Christian. The true explanation of James’ teaching, first mentioned above, is also the explanation of this experience.
So LET’S UNDERSTAND!
WHY were we born, in the first place? What is the real PURPOSE of human life? To give love in a unique way and to make eternity better.
To expand those who can do so, God Almighty the Creator is reproducing Himself! As truly as we mortal humans have been given power to reproduce ourselves – to bring forth progeny in our own image, born with our very nature even so the Great God is bringing forth sons in HIS image, born with His very divine nature!
The very PURPOSE of our existence is that we, being begotten as God’s children will develop godly character in this age, so that we can become BORN of Him and then be able to best give and increase love and make eternity better.
And human reproduction is the very type of spiritual reproduction. What God created at the time described in the first chapter of Genesis was a PHYSICAL creation. You’ll find nothing spiritual there. In physical man, made of the dust of the ground, God created the MATERIAL WITH WHICH He may mold, shape, form, and crate the SPIRITUAL being. He pictures us as the clay, Himself as the Potter – forming us into the spiritual image of HIS designing.
Now human reproduction, in a sense, pictures spiritual reproduction. Each human, since Adam and Eve, started from a tiny egg, called an ovum, the size of a pinpoint. It was produced in the body of the mother. The egg is INCOMPLETE, of itself. It has a life of only about 12-24 hours, according to some authorities. Unless fertilized by the life-giving sperm cell from the human father within that limited lifetime, it dies.
Each human, spiritually speaking, is like an egg. The average human lifetime is said to be 70 or 80 years (Psalm 90:10). Adam was created INCOMPLETE, and each of us was BORN INCOMPLETE – that is, we were made to NEED the Holy Spirit of God. And unless, within our limited life-span we are begotten of God entering to impart eternal life to us, we shall die and that would be the end. Except that God has appointed a resurrection of all who have lived, and, for those who reject His gift of eternal life, the final second death in the lake of fire.
But, in the case of the human ovum, once fertilized as a begotten human, the egg – now called an embryo – is kept within the body of the mother and is nourished and fed material food through her and protected by her. And there is must grow – being fed physically through the mother – large enough to be born. After a number of weeks, the embryo is called a fetus, and at birth it is a human baby.
In like manner, the Bible indicated that the truly faithful CHURCH, which began in Jerusalem, is the “mother of us all” (Galatians 4:24-31). That is, the mother of Christians (Revelation 12:17) – those begotten of God. It is the function of the Church to protect and feed (Matthew 28:19-20; Ephesians 4:11-16), spiritually, on the spiritual food of GOD’S WORD, those begotten children of God, so that we may GROW SPIRITUALLY (1 Peter 2:1-2; 2 Peter 3:18), in the divine character, ready to be born.
Surely this is a wonderful comparison. Yet types and ante-types are not always alike in every detail.
When a physical baby is born, it is not ready for the marriage. When the spiritual children of God are BORN, they will be fully mature for the spiritual marriage. How can this be? This is what one thinking person could not see.
The unborn human fetus is only growing PHYSICALLY. At birth, the human baby knows nothing. The baby is helpless. The baby must be taught. The baby must learn. The baby is born merely with a mind CAPABLE of learning, knowing, thinking. The baby is not yet of mature size physically or mentally. Many do marry who are still entirely immature spiritually and/or emotionally. But we do assume that one has reached reasonable maturity physically and mentally before marriage. In the human, this development takes place in the human state AFTER the human birth.
Therefore, the human baby is not ready for marriage at birth.
But the spirit-born are different!
Just as the fertilized ovum – the embryo which becomes the fetus – must grow PHYSICALLY from material food, so the spirit-begotten child of God must grow SPIRITUALLY before he can be born. BUT THERE IS A DIFFERENCE!
The fetus does not attain to complete physical MATURITY before birth, and has no mental maturity. But, in the spiritual rebirth, one must attain reasonable spiritual maturity BEFORE he is spirit-born.
Now what IS spiritual growth? Just as the physical embryo-fetus must GROW physically large enough to be BORN, so the Spirit-begotten Christian must grow SPIRITUALLY or the fetus will never be BORN of God. But spiritual growth is CHARACTER-DEVELOPMENT.
The Spirit-begotten starts out with a MIND from the beginning. God IS perfect character – divine, spiritual character. God is also LOVE. And perfect spiritual character is THE WAY of LOVE! Such a character is the attainment of the ability, in a separate independent entity of free moral agency, to be able to discern right from wrong – the true values from the false truth from error – the right way from the wrong; and then to make the right CHOICE or DECISION, even against self-desire, impulse or temptation; plus the WILL and self-discipline to resist the wrong and to DO the right.
No human, with human nature, has the power – of oneself – to do this. But God has made AVAILABLE the spiritual power and help humans lack. People must desire to KNOW – must hunger and thirst for truth; humans must make their own individual decision, exercise will, even against the pulls of human nature. But without the help of God – without spiritual POWER from God – all are utterly unable.
That is why truly converted Christians sometimes actually DO SIN. They are like the apostle Paul, as he describes himself in Romans 7. With his mind he WANTED to go the way of God’s law, yet he found himself unable. Another law –- human nature warred within him against the good resolutions of his mind. But the sequel to Romans 7 is Romans 8 – the Holy Spirit chapter. WHO, Paul cried out, could save him from this body of death he struggled against in vain? The answer is, GOD, through His Holy Spirit.
Sometimes the sin is so within one that it seems to defy human will. Notice some of what the Apostle Paul wrote:
15 For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. 16 If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. 17 But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. 18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. 19 For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. 20 Now if I do what I will n ot to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.
21 I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. 22 For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. 23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24 O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 I thank God – through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:15-25)
Jesus also said, “with men it is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26)
We all have lost the struggle with sin at times, but through Christ we can overcome.
Jesus was tempted as we are and understands:
14 Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16).
No matter how much you feel you messed up, you still can boldly go to the throne of grace to obtain mercy.
13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:13)
A true Christian doesn’t want to sin – should not. But sometimes Christians find themselves caught in the vise of habit, or overwhelmed by temptation or by circumstances from which they seem unable to be free of. Surely, had such a one been CONTINUALLY praying, keeping CLOSE TO GOD, and detached from the world or its lures or the temptations of the flesh, then that Christian probably would have had sufficient divine help to have prevented the sinning (cf. Proverbs 3:5-6; 1 Corinthians 10:13, Philippians 4:13). But ONLY JESUS CHRIST ever did keep permanently close to God!
God looks on the heart. In such a case, the Christian does not sin maliciously, with malice aforethought. The person is merely caught in the vortex of a temptation which sucks the believer helplessly down into the sin. Then the Christian is terribly sorry. The Christian is disgusted with the wrong action and repents. The Christian goes to work to overcome. The Christian may not succeed, due to human weakness, at once. But the Christian remains determined and, finally, does, with God’s help, overcome completely. Many a true Christian has had such a struggle over a particular human weakness and temptation, and after even several setbacks, finally, through God’s power, won the victory and fought the way to be free.
God looks on the heart. God FORGIVES in such cases. The living Christ, our High Priest, has compassion, is filled with mercy – as long as the attitude is right, the DESIRE of the inner Christian is to conquer the flesh and overcome the temptation and be FREE from it entirely. In the end, it is GOD who gives the victory. But, in such a struggle, the Christian DEVELOPS CHARACTER.
Now character, is something God does not create automatically. It is DEVELOPED, against the opposing pulls of human nature, with the decisions and wills and struggles of the individual, and through EXPERIENCE.
Perfect, holy and righteous character is the ability in such separate entity to come to discern the true and right way from the false, to make voluntarily a full and unconditional surrender to God and His perfect way – to yield to be conquered by God – to determine even against temptation or self-desire, to live and to do the right. And even then such holy character is the gift of God. it comes by yielding to God to instill His law (God’s right way of life) within the entity who so decides and wills.
The development of that CHARACTER is related to the very PURPOSE of our being alive. Also the development of that character, unlike the purely physical growth of the unborn baby, actually is growth toward SPIRITUAL MATURITY, right now in the BEGETTAL stage prior to spirit BIRTH – in this present mortal human life.
Now, once BEGOTTEN of God do we then stop growing spiritually? Consider, once a human grows up to a human maturity, does the person then STOP growing? Physically, yes – but mentally, morally, spiritually, emotionally the person SHOULD continue to grow and develop as long as he/she lives. Perhaps many humans don’t. But we all SHOULD. Adults who have reached this physical maturity should still learn new things continually.
If you are meeting problems and trials, don’t be discouraged. Take them to CHRIST for wisdom and power and help. Have FAITH. And count it all JOY! And NEVER quit or give up! Have perseverance!
When you were begotten by your parents, you were unborn, but your mother was still your mother. She nourished you while you were developing in the womb, until you reached sufficient maturity to be born (presuming no health complications).
Consider that the “mother of us all,” the Church, is to protect and FEED those in it, until they reach spiritual MATURITY. In 1 Corinthians 12, you’ll read how God gives spiritual gifts for various administrations, or functions of service. In Ephesians 4:11-14, Christ has given special spiritual abilities or talents to certain ones in a chain of authority under him in the Church – and notice for what PURPOSE:
11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry , for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; (Ephesians 4:11-13, RSV).
In other words, TO FULL SPIRITUAL MATURITY!
Now WHY should we count the troubles and problems and temptations that beset us as all JOY?
Simply because we CANNOT hurdle these obstacles successfully in our own power. They drive us to seek help from God. To go to God for the wisdom to know WHAT to do, and the power to be able to do it, requires FAITH. This is a LIVING faith. It is ALIVE. It is active.
When we meet such trials, we often do not know what to do. We lack the WISDOM to make the right decision. So open your Bible to the first chapter of James. Notice verses 5-6.
If you lack wisdom, in such trials, GO TO GOD for it! But ask IN FAITH — no wavering – no doubting. Be SURE God will not fail, but will give you this wisdom. Depend upon Him for it. If you waver, you are like a wave in the ocean – tossed back and forth – going nowhere! So, in stead of wavering, BE STEADFAST. And if you don’t get the answer immediately from God, have PATIENCE. Don’t give up. Trust Him.
Now notice verses 2-3: “Count it all JOY, my brethren, when you meet various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:2-3, RSV). These trials force you to your knees. You must have FAITH to meet them. They TEST your faith. They DEVELOP spiritual CHARACTER!
In the King James version, it says the trying of your faith produces patience. It produces that kind of patience that is steadfastness. THAT IS CHARACTER! Sure, it may be unpleasant for a while. But, Paul assures us that if we suffer with Christ, we shall REIGN with Him – and the GLORY TO BE revealed in us is so incomparably greater than anything we now are, that this promised future for eternity is something to REJOICE over!
Yes, count it all JOY! Even if unpleasant. It is maturing you, now, for the marriage to Christ. The true members of the CHURCH of God shall be BORN the KINGDOM OF GOD! The Kingdom of God will not be composed of spiritual know-nothings and infants.
When we are born again – born of God – resurrected in spirit bodies, those bodies will not be small, like a human physical infant which must GROW to full physical size. We shall LOOK as we do now, so far as form and shape and features are concerned. But the resurrected body will be a DIFFERENT body – composed of SPIRIT instead of flesh and blood (1 Corinthians 15:35-44).
The original twelve apostles were Christ’s WITNESSES. That is, they were actual eyewitnesses that Jesus rose from the dead – that the living resurrected Christ was the SAME Jesus who had been crucified. They were with Him forty days after His resurrection. But nobody will be foolish enough to suggest that when Christ was BORN very Son of God by the resurrection (Romans 1:4) that He was resurrected in a tiny infant’s body composed of spirit. He was resurrected FULL GROWN, as He had been when crucified. How did the apostles KNOW HE was the SAME Jesus? Because they knew what Jesus had looked like – and in His born-again resurrected body HE LOOKED THE SAME, except He now was composed of SPIRIT instead of matter!
The resurrected Christ was PERFECT – He was very God! But He did not grow up into perfection AFTER He was resurrected. It was during His human lifetime, setting us the example, that He WAS MADE PERFECT as you read in Hebrews 2:10 and 5:8-9.
Thus it is plain that we must develop spiritual character, growing to spiritual adulthood, DURING THIS LIFE – not after our resurrection in GLORY! THIS IS the SPIRITUAL growth, of which the PHYSICAL growth of the unborn child, from tiny embryo to a size and weight of some six to eight pounds at birth, is a type. The physical growth of the unborn human is growth of the begotten, but yet unborn SPIRITUAL child of God is a growth in spiritual CHARACTER, not of physical volume, size or weight. The human baby merely grows large enough to be born prior to birth – NOT TO PHYSICAL OR MENTAL MATURITY. But the child DOES GROW. And this physical growth is the TYPE of the spiritual growth by feeding on the Word of God, and prayer, and Christian fellowship, and participation in the Work of God in the life of the begotten child of God.
The DIFFERENCE IS merely the difference between matter and spirit. One is a material growth. Material growth is measured by volume, size, weight. The other is spiritual growth, measured by character development.
Jesus was BORN a very Song of God by His resurrection (Romans 1:4). He was born fully MATURE. He was born in a spirit body, which was manifested to His apostles in the same apparent size and shape as when He died. When He appears on earth the second time, in His spirit glorified body, we shall be resurrected, or instantaneously changed, into a body that will be LIKE HIM (1 John 3:1-2).
At that instant, our present mortal physical VILE bodies will be CHANGED like unto His glorified body. BUT upon conversion in this life, our vile carnal CHARACTERS are not suddenly and totally changed.
Our CHARACTER must be changed, and developed to spiritual adulthood NOW, during THIS life. Otherwise we simply shall not be then born of God!
But all who are then born of God will be born as spiritual beings! Yes, ready for the marriage to Christ! If we NOW overcome, we shall reign with Christ (Revelation 3:21; 2:26-27). We shall be married to Him! We shall be BORN SPIRITUALLY MATURE. This development to spiritual maturity is precisely what IS spiritual GROWTH sufficient to be born.
The Bible reveals that you were born for a tremendous purpose. But few really grasp the magnitude of the awesome future God offers mankind.
Believe it or not, you were born to rule in love and make eternity better!
Just as surely as a crown prince born into a royal family is to be a king, you are destined, when ‘born again’ into the universe-ruling Family of God, to reign as an even greater and eternal king.
Incredible as it may sound, your Bible reveals that you were born to ultimately help rule the universe (cf. Hebrews 2:6-8).
WHAT it means to be ‘Born Again’!
Last century (the practice is not nearly as common now), on some American street corners and especially in evangelistic campaigns, you might hear ministers ask, “Brother, have you been ‘born again’? Just believe, and give the preacher your hand and the Lord your heart, and you’ll be a ‘born again’ child of God.” But is that all there is to being ‘born again’? True, YOUR BIBLE DOES TEACH THAT YOU MUST BE ‘BORN AGAIN.’ But is also teaches that there is much more you must do before this happy event can happen to you than ‘just believe, and give the preacher your hand.’
Neither do these ministers tell you WHY YOU need to be ‘born again’! LET’S UNDERSTAND this whole matter of ‘rebirth’!
WHY You Must Be Born Again
Humans were born without the vital essence that will unable them to live forever. Humans are mortal. Humans are breathing, blood-circulating, temporarily existing material beings. Humans are subject to death. And this includes you!
Your time is fast running out, second by second. There is NO ETERNAL LIFE IN YOUR as a result of your first birth. Your parents did not have immortality to give to you. You are exactly like any animal at death (Ecclesiastes 3:19).
You were born a mortal flesh-and-blood being composed of matter, with the probability of living some seventy or eighty years.
WHAT YOU NEED IS TO BE BORN AGAIN, this time as an immortal being composed of spirit – with INHERENT eternal life so you can’t die!
God Created Humans Mortal
God formed our first parents, not out of spirit, but ‘of the dust of the ground.’ To the man whose creation is described in Genesis 1:26 and 2:7, God said, “For dust you are” (Genesis 3:19) NOT immortal spirit – just DUST. Humankind is still MORTAL, not yet immortal!
Adam was a perfect PHYSICAL specimen, yes! Whatever God creates is perfect, not imperfect. But what God created, in Adam, was a FLESHLY man – a MORTAL man of flesh and blood! He was the perfect ‘clay model’ with which, by now adding a spiritual ingredient and reshaping his character, the Master Potter purposes to CREATE a reproduction of His glorious self!
Adam, in other words, was not complete! One vital thing was lacking – and this one thing he was made to need – hunger and to thirst for – the indwelling of God’s HOLY SPIRIT!
WHY We Need the Holy Spirit
We inherited mortal life through Adam. But we can become HEIRS of ETERNAL LIFE – heirs of God and the Kingdom of God – by being SPIRITUALLY begotten by the HOLY SPIRIT, which is the eternal LIFE of God. “And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His SON” – NOT in an ‘immortal soul’ we are SUPPOSED to possess. “He who has the Son HAS LIFE; he who does not have the Son of God DOES NOT HAVE LIFE. These things I have written to you,” says John, “that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:11-13)
Eternal life with unending spiritual power is A GIFT OF GOD. It is an attribute of the Holy Spirit. “For the wages of sin is death, but the [free] gift of God is eternal life” (Romans 6:23). If we already had eternal life, it would NOT be a gift; it would be INHERITED from our physical parents.
Notice the RESULT of having the Holy Spirit: “Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ [the Holy Spirit] he is none of his. And if Christ be IN YOU” – living the same life IN US now by the HOLY SPIRIT, as HE lived by the Holy Spirit while He was personally on earth – “the body is dead” – i.e., dying – “because of sin; but the SPIRIT IS LIFE because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of him” – the Father – “that raised up Jesus from the dead DWELL IN you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also QUICKEN” – make immortal – “your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you (Romans 8:9-11, KJV).
How plain. If the Holy Spirit dwells in us, we will ultimately receive ETERNAL LIFE as Jesus did! BUT HAVING THE HOLY SPIRIT NOW DOES MORE than impart THE POWER TO COMMENCE ETERNAL LIFE in us. It imparts to us the CHARACTERISTICS of the Almighty, the all-powerful God the Father.
A Different Nature, Too
You also need a different NATURE SO YOU will not continue to live eternally in sin, suffering and misery. The human nature which causes you to sin and brings upon you the death penalty must be replaced by a new and different nature, the DIVINE NATURE of God which cannot sin (1 John 3:9).
God the Father has PERFECT CHARACTER, perfect control over Himself. That is what you need. But you weren’t born with such powers. The only way to have God’s character developed in you is to receive within your mind the Spirit of God – the divine nature of God. The only One who has both eternal life, and perfect character, is God. You NEED TO BE BORN OF GOD! But how?
How is Rebirth Possible?
About two thousand years ago Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, was puzzled by this question like you probably are. Jesus had told him, “unless one is BORN AGAIN, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3) Nicodemus understood the true meaning of the word ‘born.’ But he still couldn’t understand how it could be possible to be born once AGAIN, to have another life. “HOW can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be [re-] born?” he asked Jesus (verse 4).
Nicodemus knew only of a physical birth from physical parents. Therefore Jesus said to Nicodemus, “That which is born of the flesh IS FLESH” (verse 6). Then He explained we must be born AGAIN – NOT again of the FLESH – NOT again by entering our mother’s womb, as Nicodemus thought He meant – but be born of the Spirit – born of God! GOD must be our FATHER this time! As we were born of the flesh from fleshly human parents, so now we must be born of the Spirit of our heavenly Spiritual Father.
Here are TWO DIFFERENT KINDS OF BIRTH, ONE PHYSICAL, THE OTHER SPIRITUAL. When you were born of your FLESHLY parents you were COMPOSED OF FLESH. Your father and mother passed on to you a FLESHLY NATURE at birth. But, unlike that birth, the SECOND birth is not a physical, fleshly one, but a SPIRITUAL BIRTH!
Just as a human being is flesh because he was born of fleshly parents, Jesus declared that anyone born again of SPIRIT IS COMPOSED OF SPIRIT – he IS SPIRIT, no longer flesh! “that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (verse 6) and NOT flesh. There will be no blood in his body. He will not have to breathe air to exist. That’s the plain teaching of the Bible!
The new birth is NOT an emotional experience, but A LITERAL BIRTH. SO YOU would not mistake the true meaning of being born of the Spirit, Jesus explained that as “The wind blows where it wishes [where it wills], and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is BORN of the Spirit.” (verse 8)
Notice what Scripture says. WHEN YOU ARE ‘BORN FROM ABOVE,’ BORN OF THE HEAVENLY Father – GOD – YOU WILL BE INVISIBLE like the wind which human eyes can’t see. The work of the wind is easily discernible, but the wind itself cannot be seen. Also, if you were already ‘born again,’ as the common teaching is, you would possess the FULL MEASURE of the NATURE of your heavenly Father – which, of course, you do NOT!
Jesus compared the physical birth to the Spiritual one. The former is a type of the latter. Human parents pass on a fleshly nature at birth to their children; so with our Heavenly Parent. God the Father impregnates or begets us with His Spirit at conversion when we desire, with all or heart, to turn from our old ways. He imparts to us His Spiritual nature which must grow through a lifetime until it finally COMPOSES our minds WHEN WE ARE BORN AGAIN. WE MUST GROW SPIRITUALLY, just as a human fetus must GROW physically before it can be born. If we don’t grow, we become a ‘miscarriage’ and are NOT BORN again.
Born Again at the Resurrection
Obviously all human beings who claim to be BORN AGAIN, now at this time, are deceived – they are STILL flesh and blood. The new birth is something yet to occur AT THE RESURRECTION. Jesus said you must be born again, you must be composed of spirit in order to see or enter the Kingdom of God.
IN SPEAKING OF THE RESURRECTION in 1 Corinthians 15:50 the apostle Paul says, “Now this I say, brethren, that FLESH AND BLOOD CANNOT INHERIT THE KINGDOM of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption.”
Note that Paul preached to the Corinthians the very same doctrine that Jesus at first spoke to Nicodemus. You never can enter or inherit the Kingdom or Family of God unless you are born of God – composed of Spirit which DOES NOT DECAY.
Paul tells in the next verses WHEN the new birth of Christians will occur. “we shall all be changed” – no longer flesh and blood – “at THE LAST TRUMPET. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised”. In verse 44, Paul says “It is SOWN A NATURAL BODY”– your first birth was natural, physical, fleshly, but when you are BORN AGAIN “it is RAISED A SPIRITUAL BODY.”
Notice it! Both Jesus and Paul speak of PHYSICAL AND SPIRITUAL BODIES. Jesus tells WHEY YOU will be composed of spirit – in being born again you have the spirit body of your Parent, for LIKE PRODUCES LIKE. If you are BORN OF GOD, your Heavenly Father, you WILL BE SPIRIT – because God is Spirit – you will be composed of the same substance of which He is composed.
Paul tells us that THIS CHANGE from flesh to spirit TAKES PLACE AT THE RESURRECTION. Then you will be composed of spirit, PROVIDED YOU have been BEGOTTEN in this life and provided you have GROWN sufficiently in grace and knowledge and Godly character to be born of God.
Don’t Be a Miscarriage!
Here is the terrible consequence of believing that people are already ‘born again’ because some preacher says so. Instead of GROWING as unborn babes NEED TO DO in order to be born, those who trust in a false new birth believe that there is no need of spiritual growth now, or obedience to the commandments, because they thing they are already ‘saved’. When the resurrection comes, such people will not be there They will not have grown or developed into the stature of Jesus’ character because of not having obeyed the commandments of God.
Do you want to follow the broad way and perish, like a MISCARRIAGE of a human fetus – a child that is conceived, but never born?
Or do you believe what Jesus said – that once ‘converted,’ or begotten by the Holy Spirit, you need to grow by every word of God which CLEANS YOU UP SPIRITUALLY, just as water cleans you physically (John 3:5; Ephesians 5:26), SO you can finally be born of God and inherit the kingdom of God?
‘Born Again NOW’ an Old and False Teaching
Because Jesus made the new birth essential to entering the kingdom of God, Satan has had some of his churches and his ministers preaching COUNTERFEIT ‘NEW BIRTHS’ to DECEIVE the people, and to make the true way appear false (2 Corinthians 11:14, 15).
Masquerading as ministers of righteousness, they have DELUDED MILLIONS – into accepting and appropriating the NAME of Jesus Christ, shedding a few tears and believing in a superstitious ‘born again’ experience.
Some make it a little more involved by working up an emotional ecstasy which is interpreted to mean ‘regeneration,’ ‘sanctification,’ ‘baptism of the Holy Ghost,’ and a ‘new birth’!
Whatever the slight doctrinal differences, the devil have many CHURCHES DECEIVED into believing that Christians are already ‘born again,’ that everything is all set. There are ‘NO WORKS,’ as the saying goes. No need to obey God! There is no need, preach the false ministers, to obey God’s commandments because you are already ‘regenerated.’
This is SATAN’S CLEVER METHOD OF BEGUILING THE PEOPLE INTO FORGETTING THE REAL PURPOSE of the Christian life AND REJECTING THE ONLY WAY TO BE BORN AGAIN. This ‘born-again’ subject is referred to in Alexander Hislop’s The Two Babylons. According to Hislop, being born again on earth is a long-standing pagan belief.
Hislop quotes Asiatic Researchers (Vol. vii, p. 271, London, 1806) that the Hindu Brahmins boast that they are ‘twice born’ men.
The book quotes the Catholics’ belief (from Hay, Bishop. Hay’s Sincere Christian, Vol 1., p.356, Dublin, 1783) that infant baptism is to ‘regenerate us by a new spiritual birth’ or in other words, infant baptism is how one becomes ‘born again.’ Hislop quotes Prescott’s Conquest of Mexico (Vol iii, pp. 339-340, London, 1843) that Catholic missionaries were shocked by the similarities of the pagan baptismal ceremonies to their own. in this pagan ceremony it was stated that the infant is ‘born anew.’
Hislop seemed to feel that the concept of being born again with baptism originally was a pagan corruption of the fact that God saved Noah in an ark from the flood (many ancient civilizations recorded the flood). As Noah lived before and after the flood, he was believed to be in some sense ‘born again’. The water of the flood is supposed to be a type of baptism. After some baptismal type ceremony (which did not require immersion in some cultures), the re-born individual was assured entrance to some version of paradise.
Interestingly the Roman Catholic Church has admitted that their practices of infant baptism are of an old, non-scriptural origin. Hislop quotes the 16th century Catholic theologian Jodocus Tiletanus as saying,
We are not satisfied with that which the apostles are the Gospel do declare, but we say that, as well as before as after, there are divers matters of importance and weight accepted and received out of the doctrine which is NOWHERE SET FORTH IN WRITING. For we do blesse the water wherewith we annoynt; yea and besides that, him that is christened. And (I pray you) OUT OF WHAT SCRIPTURE have we learned the same? HAVE WE NOT IT OF A SECRET AND UNWRITTEN ORDINANCE? And further what scripture hath taught us to grease with oyle? Yea, I pray you, whence cometh it, that we do dype the child three times in that water? Doth it not come out of this hidden and undisclosed doctrine, which our forefathers have received closely without any curiosity, and do observe it still? (Harvet, Gentianus. Review of Epistles, PP. 19B, 20A, London 1598, as quoted by Hislop, A. in The Two Babylons.)
But what does this have to do with ‘born again’ from a Protestant perspective? The Catholics used to believe that babies and other who die before committing any sins will be eternally placed in a bizarre realm called ‘limbo’ if they have not been baptized (Pope Benedict XVI said that his church may change this). The Catholics believe you can be a terrible person, but if you have been baptized as an infant and will confess to a priest just before you die, you will go to heaven.
Certain Catholic teachings strongly emphasize the importance of ceremony (called sacraments) over living according to every word of God. From a Catholic perspective, once baptized your ‘immortal soul’ can access the kingdom of God. After infant baptism, all one really needs to do is confess to a priest before death and entrance into heaven is assured, no matter how one lead their life. And if you sinned after confessing to a priest and then died, after a period of purging (the length depended upon the amount and types of sin) ou then entered the kingdom of heaven.
The Protestant view is remarkably similar, except that baptism is not required of infants in most Protestant denominations. The general Protestant view appears to be that once you sin (which they usually do not clearly define; for a Biblical definition see 1 John 3:4, KJV), you must accept Jesus as your savior and then you are ‘born again;’ baptism is expected but does not appear to be an absolute requirement. Once you are ‘born again’ your ‘immortal soul’ is guaranteed to enter heaven upon death unless you repudiate your believe in Jesus. Sinning in any and every other way will not prevent you from entering heaven. Further repentance, though often encouraged, is not strictly necessary. In other words, when Protestants are referring to being ‘born again’ they are referring to a state in which one no longer needs to do to follow the laws of God in order to enter the Kingdom of God.
While it is true that eternal life is a gift of God (Romans 6:23, thus no one had an ‘immortal soul’) and that salvation is by the grace of God and not by our works (Ephesians 2:8), it is also true that there are “…ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness” (Jude 4).
9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).
5 For this know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6 Let no one deceive you through empty words, for because of the these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7 Therefore do not be partakers with them. (Ephesians 5:5-7)
Behavior matters for Christians (for more on that, see also our free online booklet: Christians: Ambassadors for the Kingdom of God, Biblical Instructions on living as a Christian available at www.ccog.org).
Second, Third, and Fourth Century Writers
Even in the second century (the century just after the New Testament was written), there was at least one Christian leader that taught that we are not to be ‘born again’ until the resurrection. Notice what Theophilus of Antioch wrote:
Of the Fourth Day. On the fourth day the luminaries were made; … But the moon wanes monthly, and in a manner dies, being a type of man; then it is born again, and is crescent, for a pattern of the future resurrection (Theophilus of Antioch. To Autolycus, Book 2, Chapter XV).
An interesting thing to observe here is that the Feast of Trumpets has traditionally been the fourth biblical Holy Day and a trumpet blast is associated with Christians being born again (1 Corinthians 15:50-54).
In the third century, Hippolytus (the greatest of the early Roman Catholic theologians according to some of their scholars) understood that we are begotten by the Holy Spirit at baptism. Notice what he wrote:
This is the Spirit that was given o the apostles in the form of fiery tongues. This is the Spirit that David sought when he said, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” Of this Spirit Gabriel also spoke to the Virgin, “The Holly Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee.” By this Spirit Peter spake that blessed word, “Though art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” By this Spirit the rock of the Church was stablished. This is the Spirit, the Comforter, that is sent because of thee, that He may show thee to be the Son of God.
Come then, be begotten again, O man, into the adoption of God … For he who comes down in faith to the layer of regeneration, and renounces the devil, and joins himself to Christ; who denies the enemy, and makes the confession that Christ is God; who puts off the bondage, and puts on the adoption, — he comes up from the baptism brilliant as the sun, flashing forth the beams of righteousness, and, which is indeed the chief thing, he returns a son of God and joint-heir with Christ (Hipoolytus. The Discourse on the Holy Theophany, Chapters 9,10).
Also, even in the fourth century, it was understood that Christians are first begotten, that Jesus was the first born of the dead, and that we become born again later. For even though he had other heretical ideas, Athanasius apparently understood this as he wrote:
For God not only created them to be men, but called them to be sons, as having begotten them. For the term ‘begat’ is here as elsewhere expressive of a Son, as He says by the prophet, ‘I begat sons and exalted them;’ and generally, when Scripture wishes to signify a son, it does so, not by the term ‘created,’ but undoubtedly by that of ‘begat.’ And this John seems to say, ‘He gave to them power to become children of God, even to them that believe on His Name; which were begotten not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.’ And here too the cautious distinction is well kept up, for first he says ‘become,’ because they are not called sons by nature but by adoption; then he says ‘were begotten,’ because they too had received at any rate the name of son…He became man, that, as the Apostle has said, He who is the “Beginning’ and ‘First-born from the dead, in all things might have the preeminence … He said to be ‘First-born from the dead,’ not but because having undergone death for us and abolished it, He was the first to rise, as man, for our sakes raising His own Body. Henceforth He having risen, we too from Him and because of Him rise in due course from the dead … He is called ‘First-born among many brethren’ because of the relationships of the flesh, and ‘First-born from the dead,’ because the resurrection of the dead is from Him and after Him … And as He is First-born among brethren and rose from the dead ‘the first fruits of them that slept;’ so, since it became Him ‘in all things to have the preeminence (Athanasius. Discourse II Against the Arians, Chapters 59,60,61,62,63,64).
Thus, the idea of being begotten when converted and being born again at the resurrection is not a relatively new one among professing Christians. But unlike the idea of being born again now, it is not a concept with pre-Christian (pagan) origins.
In addition, even in more modern times, the Eastern Orthodox Church has reported:
Frank Schaeffer…calls the standard evangelical doctrine a ‘false bill of goods.’ “The simplistic ‘born-again’ formula for instant painless ‘salvation’ is not only a misunderstanding, I believe it is a heresy. It contradicts the teaching of Christ in regard to the narrow, hard, ascetic, difficult way of salvation.” (Clendenin D.B. ed. Eastern Orthodox Theology, 2nd ed. Baker Academic, 2003, p. 2668).
Now, in the second part of this lesson (which is planned for the next edition of this magazine), we will explain more about what it really means to be born again – what it means to become a CHILD OF GOD – what the Holy Spirit actually is – and what the CONDITIONS are for receiving the Holy Spirit.