Commentary

 

What the Bible Says about Being Born Again

     

By Rev. John Odhner

Photo by Jenny Stein

I was talking recently with someone who was looking forward to becoming a father. He asked me, "Is it hard to learn how to be a good father? How did you deal with that change in your life?"

"One of the nice things about becoming a father," I said, "is that it happened one step at a time. First we got engaged, and then some time later we got married. During that time, talking about parenting helped prepare me mentally. A few months after our marriage, my wife became pregnant, and then we still had nine months before our child was actually born."

"Of course, having a new baby was a big change, but still there were many parenting tasks that came later. For example, discipline wasn't an issue for the first year, and it was two years before we had to help our son learn to get along with his new baby sister. Being a good father all at once would be impossible, but the Lord gives us a chance to learn slowly."

Most changes in our lives are gradual. An inch of growth may take a child half a year. It can take several years to learn to speak a new language or play a musical instrument. Two people can be married in a day, but the actual marriage of minds takes decades to accomplish.

Changes in our spiritual life are also gradual. They take place one step at a time, and spiritual growth will be easier if we know that it does not take place in a moment. It is an ongoing process. Jesus said,

"Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." (John 3:3)

Many passages in the Bible indicate that being born again spiritually will be just as much a step by step process as physical conception, gestation, birth, growth, and development. For example, Peter describes it in seven distinct steps:

"Add to your faith, virtue, and to virtue, knowledge, and to knowledge, self-control, and to self-control, perseverance, and to perseverance, godliness, to godliness, brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness, love." Only by completing this process can we be sure to enter the Kingdom of God. (2 Peter 1:5)

One reason why being born again must be a gradual process is that it involves a complete change of character. Paul describes it this way:

"If any one be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold all things are become new." (2 Corinthians 5:5)

Rebirth involves new knowledge, new habits, new activities, new loves, and new awareness of the Lord.

New Knowledge

Rebirth does not take place through a blind leap of faith, but through gradual education, study and enlightenment. Jesus said,

"If you continue in My Word, ...the truth shall make you free." (John 15:3)

Truth is the tool of change, the means to a new life. Jesus said,

"Now you are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you." (John 15:3)

Instead of accepting dogmas without question we must make sense of the truth in order to be reborn. Being "childlike" does not mean being childish in our beliefs.

"In malice be children, but in understanding be adults." (1 Corinthians 14:20)

In one of His stories, Jesus describes a good person as one "who hears the Word, and understands it, and also bears fruit." (Matthew 12:23)

Most important of all is the understanding of God. If God's nature is a mystery to us, we can hardly say that we are born again, or that we are His sons. (Compare John 15:15.)

Knowing God goes hand in hand with being born from Him. (1 John 4:7)

"The pure in heart shall see God." (Matthew 5:8)

When we are born again, God "shines in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the Glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." (2 Corinthians 4:6)

New Habits

Anyone who is in the habit of doing or thinking evil things is living the "old" life, and is incapable of the genuine goodness of the person who has overcome them.

"Can the leopard change its spots? Then may you also do good who are accustomed to do evil." (Jeremiah 13:23) "He who commits sin is the servant of sin." (John 8:34)

Receiving the new life requires fighting against the old habits.

"Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die? ...Turn and live!" (Ezekiel 18:21, 31-32.)

"Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean, put away the evil of your doing from My eyes! Cease to do evil, learn to do good." (Isaiah 1:16.)

This kind of repentance cannot take place merely by praying for forgiveness. It requires a struggle, an ongoing battle to overcome the old ways of life. Paul called this a struggle between the "flesh" and the "spirit." (Galatians 4:29, Romans 8:7.)

It is a battle that requires our greatest effort -- "all your heart and all your soul and all your might." (Deuteronomy 6:4)

Eventually, through constant effort, God gives us such power over our habits that we no longer would think of doing something evil. When this time finally comes, we can be called "born again."

"Whoever is born of God does not commit sin.... He cannot sin, because he is born of God." (1 John 3:9)

"Whatever is born of God overcomes the world.... We know that whoever is born of God does not sin, but he who is born of God keeps himself and the wicked one does not touch him." (1 John 5:4, 18)

New Activities

Along with new habits come new activities. A person who neglects to be useful cannot be born again, and cannot go to heaven. Jesus indicated that some Christians would not be saved because they lacked good works.

"Not everyone who says to Me, Lord, Lord, ' shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in the heavens." (Matthew 7:21)

In one of His parables, Jesus told of some people who would go into everlasting punishment, not because they had lacked faith, but because they had failed to help people who were in need. (Matthew 25:41-46)

After death, the Lord "renders unto everyone according to his deeds." (Matthew 16:27)

A person who is born again is concerned for others, and orients his life around the work he can do to help others.

"Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead... A person is justified by works, and not by faith alone." (James 2:17, 24)

To be born again, you must "bring forth fruits worthy of repentance." (Luke 3:8) Service and usefulness are marks of the new life.

New Loves

Even more than faith and more than works, the power that causes a person to be born again is love. Peter tells us that we are reborn by means of loving and for the purpose of loving others.

"Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, being born again...by the word of God." (1 Peter 1:22, 23)

John also makes it very clear that only those who love others can receive the new life:

"We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death." (1 John 3:14)

"Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love, does not know God, for God is love." (1 John 4:7-8)

New Awareness of the Lord

We must take it upon ourselves to have faith, to fight the evil impulses within ourselves, to serve others, and to love others if we wish to be born again. Yet in all these things we need also to realize that it is the Lord who is working within us.

"You have also done all our works in us." (Isaiah 26:12)

"There are many forms of work, but all of them, in all people, are the work of the same God." (1 Corinthians 12:6)

In the process of rebirth we come to realize that it is the Lord working within us that enables us to work, believe, struggle, and love. These abilities are His merciful gift. He says,

"I will give you a new heart, and put a new spirit within you...and cause you to walk in my statutes." (Ezekiel 36:26-27)

Patience

In order to be reborn we must renew our knowledge, habits, actions, loves and relationship with the Lord. All this takes time, even a lifetime. Just as childbirth and growth require patience and endurance, so does being born again.

"In your patience you will possess your souls." (Luke 21:19)

"Whoever endures to the end shall be saved." (Matthew 10:22)

God will give eternal life to those who seek it "by patient continuance in doing good." (Romans 2:7)

We cannot expect to be born again in a single moment. Again and again, the Bible advises steadfastness and endurance if we wish to gain the promise of heaven.

"It is good that one should hope and wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord." (Lamentations 3:26, 27)

For although it takes time, if we do our part, the Lord will certainly make it happen.

"Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass." (Psalms 37:5, 7)

The Bible

 

John 15:15

Study the Inner Meaning

              

15 Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.

   Study the Inner Meaning

Explanation of John 15      

By Rev. John Clowes M.A.

Explaining the Inner Meaning of John 15

Verses 15:1, 2. That the Lord is the all of spiritual truth, cherished and enlivened by divine good, by virtue of which good, all who are principled in truth and not in good, are separated, or cast out, whilst all who are principled in good united with truth, are purified.

Verses 15:3, 4. For all spiritual purification comes from the union of divine good and divine truth, and since this union is complete in the Lord, therefore all, who are principled in truth, ought to seek reciprocal conjunction with him in the good of his love, otherwise they cannot attain good.

Verses 15:5, 6. But if they attain that conjunction, they then attain heavenly good, which they acknowledge to be derived from such conjunction, since without such conjunction they are deprived of all spiritual life, and associated with infernal societies, and become a prey to all the evil of craving, and thus perish in eternal death.

Verses 15:7, 8. Whereas if they have reciprocal conjunction with the Lord, through obedience to his commandments, they acquire omnipotence over all evil and false principles, and exalt the divine good in their wills, and the divine truth in their understandings.

Verses 15:9, 10. For as the divinity is united by love with the humanity which he assumed, so is the humanity united by love with all those, who obey the truth, and thus attain reciprocal conjunction with him, which conjunction is effected by obedience to the truth, in like manner as the reciprocal union of the divinity and humanity was effected by the obedience of the latter to the divine good.

Verses 15:11, 12. That thus it is the end of the divine commandments, to introduce man to a participation of divine blessedness, by filling all his natural delights and gratifications with corresponding spiritual joys, which end is accomplished by mutual love and charity derived from the divine love.

Verses 15:13, 14, 15. Which love and charity is perfected in proportion as a man renounces self-love, and prefers another's good to his own, since in so doing he attains to a state of spiritual freedom, whereas otherwise he is in a state of spiritual servitude, through ignorance of the divine loving-kindness, inasmuch as all true freedom is derived from heavenly knowledge.

Verses 15:16, 17. Nevertheless, that the power which man possesses of conjoining himself with the Lord by love, is not of himself, but of the Lord, who alone instructs man in truth, to the intent that he may live accordingly, and thus attain to heavenly good, and that this good may be operative in good works, and thereby put man in possession of all that he can desire, since all is comprehended in mutual love or charity.

Verses 15:18, 19. Yet that they, who have attained such love, through the acknowledgement of the divinity in the Lord's humanity, will be opposed and vilified, as the Lord himself was opposed and vilified, and for the same reason too, because their affections and thoughts are in contrariety to those of the worldly-minded.

Verses 15:20, 21. They are therefore to keep in mind, that if the divine love itself be opposed, and the divine truth itself rejected, they also will be opposed and rejected, who are only receivers of that love and truth, and for this reason, because the divinity in the Lord's humanity is not acknowledged.

Verses 15:22, 23, 24. That this non-acknowledgement of the divinity in the Lord's humanity is the source of all human disorder and condemnation, since whoever opposes the Lord's humanity, or divine truth, opposes at the same time his divinity, or divine good.

Verse 15:25. Thus fulfilling divine prediction.

Verses 15:26, 27. Nevertheless the operation of the Lord's humanity, when fully united with the divinity, will prove to every believer that he is the Only God by virtue of that union, and every true believer will also confirm this testimony, because he will perceive that all of regeneration from the first insemination of truth, is from that divine source.

From Swedenborg's Works

Explanations or references:

Arcana Coelestia 51, 1017, 2371, 9245


References from Swedenborg's drafts, indexes & diaries:

Apocalypse Explained 409, 785

Related New Christian Commentary

  Stories and their meanings:



Bible Word Meanings

friends
A friend, as in John 15:14, 15, signifies the spiritual man.

all things
The Lord is life itself, is the Creator of the universe, and is the source of life on an ongoing basis. So in a literal...

heard
Thanks to modern science, we now understand that hearing actually happens in the brain, not the ears. The ears collect vibrations in the air and...

made known
In natural language the word "manifest" simply means to make something clear or obvious. A unique use, in fact, has to do with shipping; a...

Resources for parents and teachers

The items listed here are provided courtesy of our friends at the General Church of the New Jerusalem. You can search/browse their whole library at the New Church Vineyard website.


 Ask What You Desire Bookmark
Meditate on a verse from the Word and let it inspire you in a spiritual task. Cut out the color picture bookmark to keep or share.
Activity | Ages over 15

 Bearing Fruit
Project | Ages up to 6

 Bearing Good Fruit
Heaven is a kingdom of uses. Being useful is bearing good fruit.
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 Branches of the Vine
If the Lord is the Vine and we are the branches, how would you draw a branch showing the kinds of things you do to help other people.
Activity | Ages over 15

 Discipleship at Easter
The final events in Jesus' life unfolded quickly. The disciples responded to the changes in different ways. The twelve disciples picture qualities in us that follow the Lord. How do we respond when our faith is challenged?
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 11 - 17

 Elijah Calls Fire from Heaven - Level C
Complete lesson with activity choices: build an altar out of stones or a human pyramid, discuss what the prophets of Baal are in our lives, scripted story discussion, and a meditation and task on a verse from the Word.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 11 - 14

 Elijah Calls Fire from Heaven - Level D
Complete lesson with activity choices: look at the differences between mazes and labyrinths, explore how evil appears in the light of heaven, scripted story discussion, and a meditation and task on a verse from the Word.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 15 - 17

 Family Worship: Abide in Me
Religion Lesson | All Ages

 Friendships: Men and Women
Getting to know a variety of men or women helps us learn about the opposite sex and ultimately helps us learn what qualities we care about and will want in the person we marry.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 11 - 17

 Friendship: The Outward Expression of Love
How does the Heavenly Doctrine of the New Church define friendship and what do they say we should base it on?
Worship Talk | Ages over 18

 Fruit of the Vine
Talk about grapes and other fruit that grows on a vine. Consider making "a grape vine" of good deeds with "grape" beads to put on a green cord.
Activity | Ages 4 - 10

 Greater Love Has No One Than This
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 I Am the Vine
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 I Am the Vine
Download and print this beautiful poster with words from John 15: 4-5. 
Picture | Ages over 7

 I Am the Vine
Make a picture of the Lord as the Vine. Children may want to draw a branch for each member of the family while teens and adults may choose to draw a branch that represents their life, showing the fruit it is bringing forth.
Project | Ages 7 - 14

 I Have Chosen You
Worship Talk | Ages over 18

 Illustrate the Lord as the Vine
Make a picture of the Lord as the Vine. Children may want to draw a branch for each member of the family while teens and adults may choose to draw a branch that represents their life, showing the fruit it is bringing forth.
Project | Ages 7 - 14

 Imagine the Lord's Joy!
 Picture the Lord's joy each time we take a step toward heaven. 
Activity | Ages over 15

 Inspirational Quotation - Love One Another
Poster illustrating the Lord's commandment to love one another.
Picture | Ages over 8

 Living a Significant Life
The Lord tells us what we must do if we wish to live a significant life.
Worship Talk | Ages over 15

 Love
Article | Ages 15 - 17

 Memory Verse: I Am the Vine
Activity | Ages 4 - 14

 Prayers for Adults: Dealing with Other People with True Charity
Activity | Ages over 18

 Prayers for Adults: Loving the Neighbor
Activity | Ages over 18

 Quotes: I Am the Vine
Teaching Support | Ages over 15

 Seeds Bearing Fruit Wreath or Ribbon Hanging
Make a wreath or ribbon hanging with various fruits, adding a piece of fruit each time you use the seeds of truth the Lord has given us.
Project | Ages 4 - 14

 The Importance of the Ten Commandments
Worship Talk | Ages over 18

 The Lord's Example of Friendship
The Lord is able to see our true spiritual character, and He loves the good that He is able to see in us. He constantly seeks to build on that good. We must follow the Lord’s own example and seek out what is good in others.
Article | Ages 15 - 17

 The Parable of the Vine
A New Church Bible story explanation for teaching Sunday school. Includes lesson materials for Primary (3-8 years), Junior (9-11 years), Intermediate (12-14 years), Senior (15-17 years) and Adults.
Teaching Support | Ages over 3

 The Parable of the Vine
Lesson outline provides teaching ideas with questions for discussion, projects, and activities.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 7 - 10

 The Parable of the Vine (3-5 years)
Project | Ages 4 - 6

 The Parable of the Vine (6-8 years)
Project | Ages 7 - 10

 The Parable of the Vine (9-11 years)
Project | Ages 11 - 14

 The Purpose of Creation
Birth brings a person into the natural world, but God's ultimate purpose is that a person be born again into heavenly life, the life of the spirit.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 11 - 17

 The Vine and the Branches
Worship Talk | Ages over 18

 The Visible God
Worship Talk | Ages over 18

 The Wonder of the Lord's Word
When we read the Word, we have to reflect on what we have read and try to live according to it. Only this will lead to our happiness, which is why the Word has been given.
Article | Ages 15 - 17

 Treasure Hunt
Make a treasure hunt, starting at the Lord's Word and ending at a bowl of grapes. Discuss how the truths of the Word, such as the Golden Rule, can lead to good fruit.
Activity | Ages up to 10

 Unless We Acknowledge the Lord
Make a picture of the Lord as the Vine and people as the branches, bearing the fruit of useful activities.
Project | Ages over 15

 Vine and Branches
Family lessons provide a worship talk and a variety of activities for children and teens..
Religion Lesson | Ages 4 - 17

 Vine and Branches
Explore the image of the vine and the branches, which illustrates our complete dependence on God.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 11 - 17

 What Is Charity?
New Church teachings extend the idea of charity, making it more than compassionate actions towards others.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 11 - 17

 Why Is the Word Holy?
Article | Ages 15 - 17

 Why Stay Connected?
Spiritual tasks offer a reflection on a Biblical story and suggest a task for spiritual growth.
Activity | Ages over 18

 You Are the Branches
It is important for people to be connected to each other and even more important to be connected to the Lord.
Worship Talk | Ages 11 - 14

 You Are the Vine (sheet music)
Song | Ages 4 - 14


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