What Does It Mean to Be Born Again?

born again

“You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ John 3:7


Can you imagine being “born again” or having a “spiritual birth”? These terms are not words coined by me or by a church but by Jesus, to explain eternal life to a Jewish leader. Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus is recorded in John 3:1–21.

Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus, who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born.”

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

“How can this be?’” Nicodemus asked.

“You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. All those who do evil hate the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But those who live by the truth come into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.”


John 3 is a very important, if not the most important, chapter in Scripture. It includes John 3:16, which is recognized by many Bible scholars as the most famous summary of the gospel in the entire Bible. Bible scholars cannot agree on whether Verse 16 is Jesus still speaking to Nicodemus or is Apostle John commenting. There are no quotation marks in Greek manuscripts, so translators debate where Jesus’ speech ends and John’s commentary begins. Some translations have verses 16–21 in red type, indicating Jesus speaking, and other translations have those verses in black type, indicating John is speaking as inspired by the Holy Spirit.

I encourage you to read it through several times and in several translations, and to take the time to understand it thoroughly. I do not believe whether Jesus said or John wrote verses 16-21 changes the importance and truth of the teaching. The verses certainly tie well to verse 15 and to Nicodemus coming to Jesus by night rather than in light. This teaching is clearly from Jesus himself and is the origin for the term “born-again” Christian. It is also the basis for Your Spiritual Birthday.

Jesus expected Nicodemus to understand the working of the Spirit from his studies of Moses and the Prophets, yet Nicodemus still questioned Jesus, How can this be? Do you also wonder “How can this be?” Can you imagine that you must be born again to see and to enter the kingdom of God? Do you believe that all Christians must be born-again Christians? Jesus challenged Nicodemus, asking, You are Israel’s teacher and you do not understand these things?

Today, many of America’s religious teachers, priests, and pastors do not understand these things. Some believe you are born again by water baptism, including infant baptism. Others consider spiritual birth a process and compare it to a physical pregnancy. Still others teach that you can be born again and again and again. Many even believe that being born again is not required for you to enter the kingdom of God.

Your physical birth occurred at a specific time and date once and was not a process. Your spiritual birthday is an event occurring at a specific time and date and not multiple times. It could be called your “Second Birthday,” but “Spiritual Birthday” differentiates it from your physical birthday. You are physically born of your physical parents. You are spiritually born of God through the Spirit. You are physically born of water and spiritually born of Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. Physical birth is unto physical life and spiritual birth is unto eternal life. The result of these differences is summarized in the saying: “Born Once, Die Twice; Born Twice, Die Once.”