If we could reduce the entire Bible down to one single verse, it would be this:
You must be born again. (John 3:3)
That is the core of Christianity in a nutshell. These five words are said to have been said by Jesus, in a conversation with a Jewish religious leader named Nicodemus.
Jesus went on to explain that he was referring to a spiritual re-birth experience. That is, he spoke of repentance…a turning around and starting over with a new life.
And we as modern-day readers can rightly and fairly ask some questions in response:
- Why? Why should I be born again? Answer: Because Jesus the Lord, has said so. He specifically said one can’t see the Kingdom unless one is born again. And in another place, Jesus said that no one can come to the Father (ie: enter heaven) except via Jesus (John 14:6). Therefore, to be part of his Kingdom, and to one day have eternal life in heaven with him and his Father, we must be born again.
- How? How should I be born again? Answer: By repenting of your sins and by receiving forgiveness from God. If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you shall be saved (Romans 10:9). That is, you must first believe that Jesus is capable of forgiving sins. I assure you, as the perfect Messiah, who rose from the dead, he is. Then, you must confess that you were born a sinful creature and have been your entire life. Finally, are you willing to trust him as your master, above all other authorities?
At the beginning of my article on Simplist Christianity, I go into further details about this dynamic and interaction. But here, I am only going to focus on scripture.
Invariably, some could disagree with me and might protest that another verse best encapsulates the Bible. For example, I can think of at least three that some folks might propose:
- For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that whosoever believes in him, should not perish, but shall have eternal life. (John 3:16)
- Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these. (Mark 12: 29-31 and Deuteronomy 6:4)
- All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. (Matthew 28: 18-20)
These of course are crucial and important verses and yet I will explain briefly why they are not the core.
For point number one, we might hear and ask: “How are we to believe in him?” And that would certainly be an important question. We can’t assume that mere mental belief in the historical existence of Jesus can save a person from perishing. No, we believe by being born again. Which leads us directly back to John 3:3.
For the second point above we might ask, “Why must I follow these two commandments in the first place? Because of my birth religion?” And the answer is because only once you have been born again, here is now your charge. So, John 3:3 is a precursor to these verses in Mark 12.
For the third point, we also see a command bestowed on those who have already been born again. Therefore John 3:3 is the first step.
I believe that not only is the Bible reducible to John 3:3, but that this simple verse also holds the key to the singular distinction between Christians and non-Christians. That is, those who are born again, are Christians; those who are not born again, (or who are not sure if they are), are not Christians, regardless of what they may call themselves.
Think of it like this: If you want to follow Jesus, there must be a time when you begin. When did you (or will you) take your first step to follow the Lord and Messiah? In effect, we could say that that day, that step, is the moment you repent and are born again.
Therefore, it is not enough to go to church, to be born into a Christian family, or to believe that Jesus was a real person from history. In our minds and hearts, he is not merely a great prophet. Rather, he is the only channel by which we are forgiven, once and for all. He saves all who repent and turn to him. We must be born again.
Repentance does not mean changing yourself or getting your life together. It means to stop trusting yourself and in your good works, and instead to trust in God to deliver you through faith in Jesus. So, we come to God, through Jesus, when we are broken and at our end. We don’t make ourselves good first. God makes us good later. Therefore, no one is too far gone to repent. All people can be forgiven, except those who never repent.
Not everyone uses the term, “born again.” Although, I would suggest doing so, as Jesus himself did. But even so, if a person can point to a certain day, or season in their life when they turned around, repented and first trusted in Jesus for their forgiveness and salvation, then they have also likely been born again.
And just because we are born again does not mean we stop confessing our sins. Rather we continue to do so. Our first confession becomes a lifestyle in which we practice our humility daily.
My entire faith journey hinges on John 3:3. So you can imagine my shock when I recently read an article suggesting that the conversation may have been fabricated and may never have even taken place. Let me explain.
As is today, when Jesus walked the earth, he was a controversial figure. At least, towards the end of his life he was. He inevitably challenged human authority by pointing us primarily to the Father God. This caused problems especially for religious leaders who felt Jesus was misleading the people. In fact, many denounced him as a false prophet. Therefore, Nicodemus, also a religious leader, felt he had to visit Jesus at night, and in secret.
He began his conversation by stating that he believed that Jesus was from God, for how could he do miraculous healings and deliverances otherwise? Jesus responds by saying, in effect, It is true that no one can see the authority (or reign) or God unless one is born again.
We could pause here and ask whether Jesus was stating this as an affirmation of Nicodemus (as in, You recognize the Kingdom, therefore you must be one of us, despite your religious title and your crawling around at night); or as a challenge to him. We don’t really know, but Nicodemus understands it to be a challenge. In verse four, he asks Jesus how it is possible to re-enter the womb.
And Jesus explains that every person must be born once as a baby, and then later a second time, spiritually. The later is what he means by being born again. But apparently the word “again,” also means “from above.” So, when Jesus said this, Nicodemus might have heard him say either, “You must be born from above,” or, “You must be born again.” To me, this is clear since being born again also means being born from above… that is spiritually, as a call to repentance from God.
Anyway, the article I read suggested that maybe the reason that Nicodemus had to ask for clarification was because of the dual word meanings. Which I could imagine. But then the article drops a bomb. John wrote his book in Greek, most likely about 65 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus. And it is in Greek that we can see these two word meanings. But historically we know that Jesus was almost certainly speaking in Aramaic or possibly in Hebrew. And those languages do not have a word with two meanings. Therefore, the article speculates, maybe the whole conversation was made up by John as he wrote the book of John.
So, I went back and re-read chapter three and I do not see any conflict. Meaning, let’s imagine Jesus used Aramaic to say, “You must be born again.” Then the reply form Nicodemus would be appropriate. On the other hand, if Jesus had said (also in Aramaic), “You must be born from above,” then I still think the conversation could have happened. And that is because the emphasis is still on the verb born. That is: You must be born.
One final thought relates to the distinctions often made between the Old and New Testament, and the old and new covenants. I find it fascinating that in effect God was calling people all throughout the Old Testament to be born again as well. It was not written with that term, but think of all the prophets…Isaiah, Daniel, Joel, Habakkuk, etc. They all were calling people to repent. To turn around. To come back to God. We can even assume that the prophets themselves were similarly and personally called to the same. That is, they also individually had to repent and be born again. We see similar dynamics in the life of Abraham, Moses, David and even in Adam and Eve.
Therefore, my only conclusion is that the most important message for all humanity for all of history, is a call to repentance. And yes, it is always couched in a posture of love and grace.
At the end of the day, we must be spiritually born again.
©2019, Alignment Life