Ask A Pastor
By Scott T. Sharp, Pastor –– First Baptist Church Nashville
Question: “When Jesus told Nicodemus he had to be ‘born again’ in order to inherit eternal life, what did He mean?”
When Jesus told Nicodemus he had to be ‘born again’ in order to inherit eternal life, Nicodemus had no idea what Jesus meant, and the same is true for many people today. Although the terms “born again” and “saved” are frequently used, many have little understanding of how either apply to the discussion Jesus had with Nicodemus.
Responding to Jesus’ statement, Nicodemus asked; “How can my mother give birth to me a second time?” Jesus told Nicodemus that everyone is born once through the water of physical birth, but that to inherit eternal life they also have to be born of the spirit, or more explicitly, they have to experience spiritual renewal through the forgiveness of their sin. Jesus told Nicodemus that everyone born physically also had to be “born again” spiritually in order to inherit eternal life. So how is a person “born again” or “saved”?
Many point to Jesus’ mention of water as proof that baptism is part of the process of being “born again,” saying that baptism washes away sins, but to say so is to take Jesus’ answer completely out of context. Jesus was simply answering Nicodemus’ question about another physical birth from his mother and what it meant to be “born again.” So how can we be sure this is true?
Jesus was the sinless lamb of God. He had no sins to be “saved” from and no need to be “born again” and yet, He was baptized. Therefore, baptism must serve some other purpose and indeed it does. Jesus’ baptism testified to the fact that He would die by shedding his blood for the sins of men, be buried, and then be resurrected. Later, He called his followers to be obedient to his example. Today, the “born again” believer testifies through baptism that they have put to death and buried who they used to be, and being raised with Christ, they now identify with His death, burial and resurrection. Baptism is the result of being “born again” and not the means by which one is “born again.”
Romans 10:8-13 explains how a person experiences salvation (from their sin), or how they can be “born again.” “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be “saved” or “born again.” Martin Luther said we are “saved” sole fide, by faith alone, by a professed faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins.