Appendix II: BORN AGAIN
“Born again” is a term commonly used today to speak of an initial salvation experience. It was not always so.
Before the early 1700s, the term was rarely if ever used. It was not a doctrine that was taught by Catholics or Protestants. Most ministers were not even familiar with the term. So, what happened that brought the term into common use?
Following the Reformation of the 1500s, Protestant churches taught that no one could be assured of salvation. The doctrine was clear: If we give ourselves to church teaching, do our best, and lead a moral life, we should make it into heaven.
This perception of salvation was better than church teachings before the Reformation, when nearly everyone was condemned to purgatory as a place between heaven and hell. The believer’s experience was generally void of emotional encouragement and resembled a works-oriented type of faith.
In the early 1700s, a few ministers became concerned about the lack of feeling and coldness in the church experience. As they sought God for answers, they were reminded of the reformation message of Martin Luther, “Salvation is by faith in Christ, by grace alone.” God began to move on them, one by one, with a cleansing presence. The experience left an assurance of God’s saving favor. A light came on.
In 1735, the well-known New England theologian Jonathan Edwards was one of the first to experience this cleansing sensation. He introduced his region of America to this soul-stirring experience which usually followed a sincere repentance. Revival broke out in the churches in his area of the country.
In 1736, England’s Wesley brothers and George Whitefield were stirred by the same concern. They also experienced a cleansing presence and assurance of God’s favor. The Wesleys then stirred revival all over England while Whitefield traveled to America.
Whitefield’s messages graphically described the “hell we deserve” and told of the “grace God desires to give.” He entreated everyone to “weep before God in repentance and feel His love wash you, as I have, and be born again.” People responded and experienced the cleansing sensation.
George Whitefield’s meetings during the Great Awakening revivals of the 1700’s began to change people’s perception of God and produce a new found faith. Rather than “the distant God” they had been taught about, people began to believe in “a near God.” They experienced an emotionally stirring presence which left a cleansed feeling and an assurance of salvation.
Whitefield became a preaching wonder throughout America. He spoke with an uncommon animation and delivered his message with a voice charged full of emotion. During 10 trips, He held 350 meetings in 75 towns and cities, and spoke to over a quarter of America’s population (about 800,000).
At one meeting in Boston it was estimated 23,000 people gathered to hear him speak. It was reported that his voice could be heard a quarter of a mile away. What an amazing feat considering microphones and electronic media did not exist!
Established ministers feared Whitefield’s preaching was bringing disorder and labeled it emotional babble. The revivals of that day came to be called “The Great Awakening.”
Whitefield’s message introduced a new thought as he declared: You can be “born again.” He said this cleansing presence is as a new birth; it will change your life. This concept comes from just one text in Scripture, in the Gospel of John:
Jesus answered: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” Jesus answered, “…I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:1-8).
The cleansing experience of the day came to be known as a rebirth, a born again conversion. People even began to ask one another if they had been born again. New churches sprang up that proclaimed this experience was required for salvation.
Upon close examination, we discover the phrase has a much grander meaning. The Greek word, anothen, in these verses is translated as “again.” Anothen is a combination of ano, which means “above” and the suffix then, which means “from.” The word clearly means “from above.”
The King James Version translated anothen in each instance as “from above,” except in this text we are examining. (The other verses are: John 3:31; James 1:17; John 19:11; Matthew 27:50-51; Mark 15:38; Luke 1:3; Acts 26:5; John 19:23; Hebrews 10:5, 8.)
Clearly Nicodemus did not have a clue about what Jesus was saying. So we should not assume his idea of being born again has any kind of bearing on what Jesus was saying. In this text, Jesus said the kingdom of God is not seen or entered into (perceived or experienced) without receiving Spirit input from above.
Ascribing to a belief system as Nicodemus did (Judaism), does not mean that any one is experiencing God’s governing presence. Jesus encouraged us to receive from God’s Spirit so we can perceive and experience God’s kingdom reign in our lives.
The kingdom of God is a fellowship of hearts, His with ours and ours with others. Our repentant approach toward God submits our heart to His governing presence. This is true for any one in any generation. Our heavenly Father desires to lead and guide us through life. The emotionally stirring and cleansing experience began to spark this reality in people’s lives.
The “born from above” concept is really introduced earlier in John’s first chapter.
As many as received Him…He gave the right to become children [teknon] of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1:12-13).
Each person is an offspring of God. We all have with us the potential to be children that are disciplined by our heavenly Father. This potential, however, is like an image contained in a piece of wood waiting for the artist to cut it out. Our repentant acceptance of God in Christ gives us the right to be taught and trained by the Father as governed children.
Teknon Vs. Huios
The Greek word teknon (children) in the Jewish culture spoke of the formative years of a child. Hebrew men were considered to be forming children until the age of thirty. Boys passed through two stages of childhood before they were considered mature adults. The first stage involved twelve years under a mother’s care until the Bar-mitzvah. This first process was not without a father’s involvement, but the mother was the primary, everyday teacher. The second stage was under the father’s care and the instruction of tutors until the age of thirty, when he was then considered an adult, a mature son.
Scripture translates another Greek word huios as “child” and “son.” This word is not like teknon; it indicates an adult level of maturity. Huios was only used of men who had reached the age of thirty. Jesus entered public ministry at the age of thirty. Jesus spoke of Himself as the “huios (mature child) of man,” while others called him the “huios (mature son) of God.” He was called teknon only once, by His mother.
The distinction between the Greek words teknon and huios is very obvious in Romans 8:14-21. Paul speaks of elementary believers as teknon (forming children), while he identifies those who are following the Spirit of God as huios (mature child).
For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are [huios – mature] sons of God…The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are [tekon – forming] children of God, and if [tekon – forming] children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ…
For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the [huios – mature] sons of God…in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the [tekon – forming] children of God (Romans 8:14-21).
Humans are offspring of God that are under the disciplines of the natural realm. Many call the planet we live on “Mother Earth.” God is involved in the life of all His offspring, but not quite like He is when we accept Him as our governing Father.
Those who see and respond to any of the disciplines of the Father’s guidance are forming children (teknon) who are in a process of becoming mature children (huios). Our “birth from above” includes an ongoing process of learning to be Spirit-led people. Scripture does not indicate our development is restricted to any specific event or time frame.
From a biblical perspective, our “birth from above” is much more than an event; it’s an ongoing forming process, a “receiving from above.” When we receive from our heavenly Father, we actually see and enter into the experience of the kingdom of God and partake of the governance of the Father. When we view “born from above” as a “born again” event, we can overlook God’s governing and formative intent.
With the above insights in mind, the two texts in the Gospel of John that introduce the “born from above” concept could read as such:
All who believe and receive Christ, to them God gives permission to be formed and developed as growing children… who are governed by Father (John 1:12-13, Christ Culture paraphrase).
Jesus answered…“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you actively receive from above, you cannot comprehend the governing reign of God in your life…unless you are responsive in flesh and spirit, you are not experiencing God’s governing guidance. He that responds to the flesh is natural and he that responds to the Spirit is spiritual. Don’t be amazed that I said, ‘You must actively respond to God.’ The wind blows where it wants and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so it is with everyone who actively responds to the Spirit of God” (John 3:3, 6-8, Christ Culture paraphrase).
Jesus said those who respond to the Spirit of God are responsive in spirit and flesh. Our response is not just in spirit, it includes our flesh as well. Jesus even said we cannot always know who is or is not responding for they are as indiscernible as blowing wind. We only know by the effects, by the fruit of their life (see Matthew 7:16).
Forming children (teknon) of God are offspring of God who receive and respond to the governing, forming, and maturing guidance of our Father. Children partake of the kingdom reign of God as they receive His guiding insight.
It is obvious that maturity does not mean that we are mature in each area of life, at all times, or in every situation. The most mature (huios) sons still experience further maturing processes. Even the Apostle Paul admitted:
I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet…one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ (Philippians 3:13-14).
George Washington understood his spiritual life was a developmental process. He wrote in his journal: “Oh, eternal and everlasting God, direct my thoughts, words, and work. Wash away my sins…and purge my heart by the Holy Spirit. Daily, frame me more and more in the likeness of thy Son, Jesus Christ.”
I gave my heart to God as a pre-teen. During my teenage years, I read the Scriptures daily and asked many questions which resulted in several short conversations with God. One evening while on a walk, I recalled some of the amazing conversions I’d heard. These were life-changing events that people had as they began to respond to God.
As I thought about these amazing experiences, I asked God if I was missing part of His purpose for my life. Should I know life without Him, as a Prodigal, so I could also experience a conversion event? Would this give me a greater appreciation of His love?
I sensed God say, “You have chosen the better way.” I immediately understood it is much better to learn to walk with God from our beginnings than it is to live in separation and eventually come to a sudden awakening that turns us to God’s governing guidance.
We might begin to perceive and experience the kingdom of God in a major awakening event. Or we can realize through a series of waking moments that God is speaking, sharing insight, leading, and guiding. It does not matter how we begin to respond to our heavenly Father, the important thing is that we be receptive to the Spirit of God throughout life.
A “birth from above” really speaks of our ongoing response to the governance of God. Are we allowing Him to teach, discipline and bring us into mature reflections and resemblances of His heart? Are we resting in a born-from-above experience (good), or are we responding daily to the governing reign of God in our life (better)?
2. Way of Salvation Transforms Us
(All Scripture quotes are from the NASB version)
There once was a farmer whose mule tripped and fell into a deep well. The farmer heard the mule braying but was unable to figure out how to get the animal out. It grieved him that he could not pull the animal out. The mule had been a good worker around the farm.
Although the farmer sympathized with the mule, he reluctantly called his neighbors together. He asked them to haul dirt to bury the old mule in the well and quietly put him out of his misery. At first, the mule was puzzled, but as the farmer and his neighbors continued shoveling dirt into the well, he had an idea: he ought to shake the dirt off his back and step on top of it. So he did just that.
“Shake it off and step up…shake it off and step up…” Despite the pain and the panic, the old mule just kept shaking off the dirt and stepping up! It wasn’t long before the mule stepped over the lip of the well. What might have buried him became his means of escape, all because of the way he handled his adversity.
We understand that life is our personal growth journey. The life process initially births us into existence to experience growth cycles. While some cycles contain adversity and seem to be destructive, our heavenly Father uses them to mold us into reflections and resemblances of His heart of love.
Saved From Separation
At the beginning of human history, God made our first parents and placed them in the Garden of Eden. There He provided all they needed to grow and develop.
- Out of the ground the LORD God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:9).
When God planted the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, He said both trees were pleasing to the sight and good for food. However, God gave Adam and Eve instructions that limited their choice.
This garden was filled with many good things to eat. When Adam and Eve chose to ignore our heavenly Father’s instructions, they allowed another perception to become their guiding light.
We trust you’ve enjoyed the preview for this chapter. We hope you’ll purchase a copy of the book and join us on this exciting faith journey. The Christ Culture is available from this website or Amazon.com