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

 

Psalms 37:7

Study the Inner Meaning

              

7 Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for him: fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way, because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass.

   Study the Inner Meaning

Exploring the Meaning of Psalms 37      

By Rev. Julian Duckworth

Psalm 37 is an exceptionally helpful and practical psalm, in that it consistently offers clear guidance to us in our spiritual life and our human situations. It has forty verses, each with one or sometimes two direct statements. It gives various things that we are to take care not to do, and various things that we are to do, understanding that they are commanded by the Lord.

These instructions are kept short and to the point. Spiritually, brevity is about our need to receive commands which speak to us directly without elaboration or debate. Our understanding of worldly life is often caught up with complexities and qualifications. Our spiritual understanding needs to be focused fully on the Lord and the Word so that we well understand the absolute nature of divine truth.

The psalm begins as it will continue: “Do not fret because of evildoers…” because the Lord, in good time, will bring things to their rightful end. But we should also not fret because it disturbs and weakens our trust in the Lord, which is there to uphold and strengthen us.

Evil is then likened to the short-lived grass which gets cut down and which withers. ‘Grass’ corresponds to simple facts or scientifics which, while useful, are not to take on undue importance compared to what is spiritual. (See Apocalypse Explained 507)

“Trust in the Lord and do good”, “Delight yourself in the Lord”, and “Commit your way to the Lord” all follow on - one after the other. They point out the value to us of these direct commands and statements. (Refer to Divine Love and Wisdom 237, near the end)

One theme which runs through this psalm is that evil and wickedness will always be short-lived, and brought to an end. Verse 10, for example, says ‘…For yet a little while and the wicked shall be no more.’ And verse 20 puts it, ‘…The enemies of the Lord, shall vanish, into smoke they shall vanish away.’ Spiritually this short-lived nature of evil stands for the certainty of its downfall, and, while hell exists, (in which the Lord still governs even those who choose a love of evil), the Lord will end the evil in us, and the evil influencing us, when we live by the Word. (Arcana Caelestia 8939)

Verse 25 mentions the fact that we age: ‘I have been young and now am old’ and continues on to describe seeing the goodness of the Lord. Spiritually, ‘young’ stands for a state in which we are more vigorous in what we assert and believe (Divine Providence 105), whereas to be ‘old’ stands for spiritual maturity in which we have become wiser and humbler from following the Lord. (Arcana Caelestia 3254)

An important point is made in verse 27, that we are to ‘Depart from evil and do good, and dwell for evermore.’ The order here is very significant; we know the importance of loving and doing what is good, but for this to be genuine good rather than conditional good, we need to first examine ourselves and abstain from what is evil. In this way, we will grow in a true love of good, as the Lord’s good and not ours. It is also important for us to see that this is an ongoing process. (Charity 23-25)

Verse 34 commands us to ‘Wait on the Lord, and keep his way’. Waiting is generally a time-based idea but spiritually, time is not a consideration, only state. This then means that to wait on the Lord is to be attentive, mindful, conscious of and ready for the Lord in our life, knowing that as we keep close to the Lord, he can help us feel that he is close to us and directing our steps. In this way, we become expectant. (Arcana Caelestia 5284)

This is an important, spiritually practical psalm that's like a deep well. We've touched on a few of the many statements in it, but there's much more here. Hopefully, these examples will encourage you to explore it further!

From Swedenborg's Works

Main explanations:

The Inner Meaning of the Prophets and Psalms 287

Related New Christian Commentary

  Stories and their meanings:



Hop to Similar Bible Verses

Esther 3:15

Job 35:14

Psalms 27:14

Lamentations 3:25

Bible Word Meanings

the Lord
The Bible refers to the Lord in many different ways, which from the text seem indistinguishable and interchangeable. Understood in the internal sense, though, there...

lord
The Lord, in the simplest terms, is love itself expressed as wisdom itself. In philosophic terms, love is the Lord's substance and wisdom is His...

prospereth
'To be made to prosper' signifies being provided for. Which is why 'Jehovah made it prosper in his hand' means Divine Providence. 

way
These days we tend to think of "roads" as smooth swaths of pavement, and judge them by how fast we can drive cars on them....

man
The relationship between men and women is deep and nuanced, and one entire book of the Writings – Conjugial Love or Love in Marriage –...

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.


 Divine Providence
The Lord keeps the world in a state of order through His Divine providence, which is directed above all to the human race.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 11 - 17

 Living in the Present
What can you do to reach your goals while also trusting in the Lord and doing what is good?
Activity | Ages over 15

 Loving One Another
This sermon shows that someone who really cares about others will seek to understand the truth so that he may serve in intelligent ways. When this happens, greater blessings are achieved for all. 
Worship Talk | Ages over 18

 Memory Verse: God Meant It for Good
Activity | Ages 4 - 14

 Memory Verse: Trusting in the Lord
Activity | Ages 4 - 14

 Quotes: Trusting in the Lord
Teaching Support | Ages over 15

 Secret Roads on Earth
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 The Story of Joseph
Examining the life and character of Joseph teaches us about how the Lord leads each of our lives.
Worship Talk | Ages over 18

 Trust in the Lord
What is trust in the Lord? One who trusts in the Lord loves Him and looks to Him in all things. And this trust brings peace, because it opens a person’s mind to the Lord’s infinite love and wisdom.
Worship Talk | Ages over 18


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