Ask A Pastor
By Rev. John Campbell, United Presbyterian, Oakdale
At this time of the year, there are many sporting events, and in these events one sees signs of John 3:16 or “Born Again.” There are people who come to their pastor and ask what does this phrase ‘born again’ mean. Which brings us to this month’s question: “When Jesus told Nicodemus he had to be ‘born again’ in order to inherit eternal life, what did He mean?”
This exchange between Jesus and Nicodemus is recorded in the Gospel of John. And Nicodemus is identified as “a member of the Jewish ruling council.” Verse 3 of this chapter reads: “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” ‘Born again’ can also be ‘born from above.’ Also note that Jesus says to “see the kingdom”, not “inherit eternal life.”
The clear meaning is concerned with birth, and the text connects this with birth from the womb of the mother. Here is an interesting fact, in physical birth the baby doesn’t have any control of the events that occur. So having nothing to do with the birth, it is totally God who is in control. Salvation is a work of God. Understand unless we have a change from God we can’t even begin to approach God.
Another part of the Bible, James, tells us that “every good and perfect gift is from the Father of the heavenly lights,” and then continues by stating, “He chose to give us birth.” An example is that of Lazarus whom Jesus raised. Lazarus could do nothing as he was dead. His life was given to him through Jesus. So our birth from above is given us from God through the Holy Spirit.
So why do we need to be born again? The Bible says that humankind is separated from God because of the sin of Adam and thus in need of salvation. This separation is called spiritual death. So before we believed we were spiritually “dead” or separated from God. Since a person is an imperfect sinner, and God is a perfect God, no one can save himself.
One Church Father states it this way: “Unless you are born again and receive the right instructions you are wandering somewhere out there far away from the kingdom of heaven.”
Salvation is a gift of God. It is a work of many parts explained through the Bible. First God chooses us. Contained in God’s choosing is the work of justification (making us right), redemption, and sanctification (making us holy), as well as God gives us faith to repent and call on the name of the Lord.
The new birth includes faith, repentance, confession and baptism, with baptism as the final act that completes the process of the new birth. Once having been baptized, a person grows by feasting on the word of God, for it is the word of God that both begets us and causes us to grow. Coming to faith is the beginning of the salvation process.