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 3:3

Study the Inner Meaning

              

3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

   Study the Inner Meaning

Explanation of John 3      

By Rev. John Clowes M.A.

Explaining the Inner Meaning of John 3

Verses 3:1, 2. That some in the perverted church, in consequence of the miracles which the Lord worked, seek conjunction with him, and acknowledge his doctrine to be divine.

Verse 3:3. To whom it is taught, that man cannot attain any perception of heavenly good and truth, except by regeneration.

Verses 3:4, 5. This however is understood by those of the perverted church, according to a natural idea, and not according to a spiritual idea, and therefore they are further instructed, that regeneration is effected by a reception of the truths of faith in man's understanding, and by a love and life in conformity with those truths.

Verses 3:6, 7. Because man is at first born merely natural, but has the capacity of afterwards becoming spiritual, by a life according to truths derived from the Word, and therefore he ought not to regard regeneration as a strange, or irrational operation.

Verse 3:8. Yet that scarcely any of the innumerable arcana of regeneration come to the knowledge and perception of man.

Verses 3:9, 10. This cannot be comprehended by those of the perverted church, who are in the knowledges of external truth, when yet those knowledges ought to have conducted them to the apprehension of internal truth.

Verses 3:11, 12. For the literal or external sense of the Word proceeds from, and is filled with, the interior things of the divine truth and wisdom, which things are rejected by those who remain in the love of mere natural things, and who, on that account, cannot comprehend celestial and spiritual things.

Verse 3:13. For celestial and spiritual things can only be comprehended by those who receive into their minds and lives the divine truth, inasmuch as the divine truth alone comes down from heaven, and therefore is alone capable of elevating any into the things of heaven.

Verses 3:14, 15. That this divine truth therefore assumed a sensual corporeal principle here on earth, to the intent that sensual corporeal men might have a divine object of faith presented to them, and being thus elevated to conjunction with that object, might be preserved from the defilement and death of merely sensual and corporeal life.

Verse 3:16. That this was effected from the divine love, to the intent that mankind might no longer continue immersed in mere natural love, but might be raised into the sphere of celestial and spiritual love.

Verses 3:17, 18. Wherefore God assumed the Human [nature] to the intent that mankind might conjoin goodness and truth in their minds and lives, since a right faith in the Divine Humanity of the Lord leads to such conjunction, whereas a want of that faith leads to separation.

Verses 3:19, 20. For the Divine Humanity of the Lord is divine truth, and if divine truth be rejected in consequence of evil love, then nothing appertains to man but the false principle of evil.

Verse 3:21. On the other hand, if divine truth be loved and obeyed, man is conducted to the Lord's Divine Humanity, because he is willing to acknowledge that all the good which he wills and does is from that divine source.

Verses 3:22, 23, 24. That when the Lord had finished these sayings, he instructs the perverted church in the truths of purification, which truths also were taught in abundance by those who were principled in charity and faith, whilst they were in a state of freedom.

Verses 3:25, 26, 27. Nevertheless these truths are received with doubt by those of the perverted church, and therefore it is taught that all purifying truth is from the Divine Truth, and thus that all wisdom, intelligence, reason, and science, are not of man, but of the Lord in his Divine Humanity.

Verses 3:28, 29. And that the design of all representative truth is only to prepare mankind for the reception of the Divine Truth, that thus good and truth may be conjoined in the church, and the church may rejoice in being instructed concerning the precepts of faith, and in receiving them in faith and obedience.

Verses 3:30, 31. Thus the Divine Truth becomes all in all in the church, as being inmost truth, and all other good and truth only administer externally.

Verses 3:32, 33. For the Divine Truth testifies concerning the Lord, both as to his divine wisdom and divine love, and notwithstanding its being rejected by the generality of mankind, brings conviction along with it to those who receive it.

Verses 3:34, 35. Which truth is from the Lord's Divine Humanity, whose intelligence and wisdom are infinite, being in eternal union with the divine good, and thus possessing the all of that good.

Verse 3:36. Whosoever therefore receives truth from that Divine Humanity with a right faith, is made partaker also of the divine good, but whoever rejects it, can have no apprehension of that good, but remains in his own natural evils.

From Swedenborg's Works

Explanations or references:

Arcana Coelestia 4269, 4721, 4904, 5280, 5342, 5354, 8043, ...

Apocalypse Revealed 20, 535

A Brief Exposition of New Church Doctrine 111

Conjugial Love 525

Divine Providence 82

True Christian Religion 572, 577

The New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine 173


References from Swedenborg's drafts, indexes & diaries:

Apocalypse Explained 721

Coronis (An Appendix to True Christian Religion) 21, 54

Related New Christian Commentary

  Stories and their meanings:



Bible Word Meanings

answered
To "answer" generally indicates a state of spiritual receptivity. Ultimately this means being receptive to the Lord, who is constantly trying to pour true ideas...

said
As with many common verbs, the meaning of “to say” in the Bible is highly dependent on context. Who is speaking? Who is hearing? What...

say
As with many common verbs, the meaning of “to say” in the Bible is highly dependent on context. Who is speaking? Who is hearing? What...

see
The symbolic meaning of "seeing" is "understanding," which is obvious enough that it has become part of common language (think about it; you might see...

kingdom
In the most general sense, a kingdom in the Bible represents a church. In a more specific sense, a kingdom represents a church in regards...

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.


 Food for Thought: Baptism - A Doorway to Eternal Life
Baptism creates an introductory link between a person and the Lord.
Activity | Ages over 15

 Man Who Visited the Lord
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 Memory Verse: Jacob's Ladder
Activity | Ages 4 - 14

 New Beginnings
Worship Talk | Ages over 18

 Nicodemus
Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus reveals important insights into Jesus' mission on earth.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 11 - 17

 Prayers for Teens: Water and Baptism
Activity | Ages 15 - 17

 The Lord and Nicodemus
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 Lord and Nicodemus (3-5 years)
Project | Ages 4 - 6

 The Lord and Nicodemus (6-8 years)
Project | Ages 7 - 10

 The Lord and Nicodemus (9-11 years)
Project | Ages 11 - 14

 The Meaning and Purpose of Baptism
Explains how baptism creates an inner link to the Lord through the angels and an outer link via the Word and the church. 
Worship Talk | Ages over 18

 The Power of the Lord’s Word
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 9 - 12

 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

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

 Why Are We Here?
Lesson and activities to explore why we were created - what God intends for us.
Religion Lesson | Ages over 15


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