Born-Again Christians

“Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
—John 3:3

HAVE YOU EVER BEEN asked, “Are you born again?” And, if so, how have you answered the question? It wasn’t until about fifty years ago that several evangelists started to have revivals in which Christians of various denominations were asked to rededicate their lives to God and to be ‘born again.’ Out of these revivals, crossing several Christian denominations, there sprang up a movement known as the Evangelical Christians. An article appeared in the U.S. News and World Report magazine on May 5, 2004, telling about these Christians, entitled “Nearer My God to Thee,” with a subheading “Their distinctive faith aside, evangelicals are acting more like the rest of us.” The article then went on to review the trends in this group of Christians, starting by calling attention to the success some of their writers have had in capturing the attention of U.S. readers through novels published, particularly the Left Behind series, having sold 42 million copies worldwide, books written by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins.


Other of their writers are not as phenomenally successful, but still doing well, as Pastor Rick Warren (The Purpose Driven Life—more than 15 million copies) and Bruce Wilkinson (The Prayer of Jabez—over 9 million copies).

The article continues, saying: “Despite the booming popularity of evangelical artists and authors, evangelicals themselves remain an enigma to many outside the tradition—a people often stereotyped, whose agendas and motives are viewed with suspicion. They are a people, too, who often seem ill at ease with their own success and inside status in an America that they often regard as hostile to their values.

“Yet a new poll by U.S. News and PBS’s Religion & Ethics Newsweekly reveals that evangelicals—their distinctive faith aside—are acting more and more like the rest of us. They are both influencing, and being influenced, by the society around them. While they harbor deep concerns about the moral health of the nation, they are more tolerant than they’re often given credit for, pay far more attention to family matters than to politics, and worry about jobs and the economy just about as much as everyone else. And, while it comes as no surprise that while evangelicals are overwhelmingly Republican and back President Bush by a wide margin, nearly a quarter say they might vote for Democrat John Kerry. (The small portion of African-American evangelicals mostly support Kerry, but their views often diverge strongly from the white majority.) ‘This is a group that is integrated into the mainstream,’ says Anna Greenberg, vice president of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, which conducted the survey in late March. ‘Evangelicals are just not that much different from the rest of America.’

“The statistics alone speak volumes. White evangelical Christians today make up roughly a fourth of the United States population. More than sixty million Americans say they are ‘born again’ and experience a daily personal relationship with God. Included among their numbers are farmers and factory workers, teachers and tycoons, doctors, lawyers, homemakers, and the current president of the United States. While they are slightly more likely to live in the South, and in small towns and rural areas, they reside in cities and suburbs in every region and are just slightly older and just slightly less educated than Americans in general.


“Yet, evangelicals have historically struggled over their relationship to the larger society. The New Testament teaches Christians to be ‘in the world’ but not ‘of the world.’ Evangelicals traditionally have interpreted ‘the world’ as non-Christian society. ‘Worldliness’ meant sinfulness and was to be avoided. Thus, evangelicals created their own parallel institutions—schools and colleges, music, books, movies, and magazines to preserve their biblical values.

“During the past half century, however, they have emerged from their self-imposed isolation in the cultural backwater religion revivalism and biblical fundamentalism to attempt to carry out Jesus’ command to ‘make disciples of all nations.’ In the process, they have become a potent force in American society. Their churches are growing at a time when many mainline denominations are languishing. Their colleges are attracting students in record numbers and turning out graduates eager to apply their faith vigorously in careers in business, education, government, and the media. And their increasing presence in the political arena has altered the dynamics of local and national politics by giving voice to a vast and predominantly conservative constituency.

“But their place in the world is still not a comfortable one, as Steve and Sharon Clausen well know. Steve, who owns a landscaping business in St. Charles, Illinois, a Chicago suburb, and Sharon, a stay-at-home mom, are parents of three teenage boys and preteen daughter. As third-generation evangelicals, they are, in their words, ‘very plugged in’ at their church—an 1,100-member evangelical congregation that features contemporary music and a cappuccino bar, but is devoid of such traditional churchly touches as an altar, an organ, or stained-glass windows. Steve leads a weekly men’s Bible study group, and Sharon leads singing at Sunday services. The kids take advantage of a huge selection of youth activities, from soccer camps and Bible studies, to music and dance groups. What worries the Clausens most about life in America today is what worries lots of parents, Christian or not—the safety, happiness, and well-being of their kids.


“But lately, they say, it’s been harder to protect their children from the worldliness of the culture at large.”

The article then went on to describe the problems parents are having in sheltering their children from the culture and ravages of our society. Also explained, was their participation in politics. Although they take part in voting for candidates, most of them are not giving time or money to political candidates or causes. Only one third are active in this way. About 35% of the Evangelicals are termed free-style voters and will swing one way or another. They helped pave the way for Jimmy Carter’s election in 1976 and 55% of them voted for Clinton. Concerning President Bush, the majority feel as does Roberta Combs, President of the Christian Coalition who said, “We have a president who basically speaks for us. He’s said he’s a born again Christian, and we trust he’s in the public arena doing what he—and we—think is right.” The article ended on the note of calling attention to other trends among the Evangelicals and the effect American culture has upon them, to make them more like the ordinary American citizen.


How did the evangelical movement start? What was the reason for adopting the ‘born again’ concept? Back in the 1950’s, after World War II had ended, there was an alarming decline in church attendance. In an attempt to reverse this decline, a number of crusades sprang up, held by several evangelists. The most noteworthy ones were those conducted by Billy Graham, held in large stadiums in large cities around the United States and the world. The degree of decline can be seen in the Gallup poll statistics that showed church attendance had fallen to 49% in 1955, and continued down to 42% in 1970, and 40% in 1971. The movement got its greatest boost in 1976 when Jimmy Carter became president and was known to be a born-again Christian.

Being born again comes from the conversation held by Jesus with Nicodemus, a Pharisee and a ruler (teacher) in Israel. Nicodemus was a member of the Sanhedrin who came to Jesus by night.

It is reasonable to suppose that he did so as not to be seen by others of his sect and position. This was because of the tremendous opposition to Jesus by the rulers of Israel, and especially those who were Pharisees. Apparently, Nicodemus was partially convinced that Jesus was the Messiah, but he wanted to be absolutely sure. Hence, he came to learn if the reports he had heard were true. He also wanted to talk to this wonderful man, without jeopardizing his position with the rulers of Israel.

The account of this visit reads as follows: “There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. 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. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.”—John 3:1-8


Knowledge of this subject is dependent on understanding the basic Greek word gennao from which born is translated. It has often been said that the Greeks had a word for everything. The saying does not hold true in this case. The Greeks had only one word for ‘born’ and ‘begotten,’ whereas in English (and other languages) we have two distinct, but related, words. Gennao can be translated as either born or begotten. Throughout all of the New Testament, this Greek word gennao is found translated both ways—born and begotten. How do we know which is correct? We are clearly dependent upon the context for guidance. The Greeks made no distinction. To the Greeks, the process of procreation was described by a single word—gennao—and that word literally means to procreate. Since the father’s part in procreation is to beget, and since the mother’s part is to give birth, one has to know from the context whether the father or mother are directly involved, before one can tell whether gennao should be translated born or begotten.

In the New Testament, gennao has been translated forty-nine times as begotten and only thirty-nine times as born. In some of the cases where born was used, it would have been more appropriate to have translated gennao as begotten because of the context. There is an example which illustrates the inconsistency that can occur because of the failure to properly analyze the context. This example is in I John 5:18: “We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not.” In this text, the word gennao occurs twice, and even though applying to our Heavenly Father on both occasions, it is translated ‘born’ in one case and ‘begotten’ in the other. One would expect that for consistency sake, the same word would have been used. Wilson’s Emphatic Diaglott translates gennao both times in this text as “begotten.”


Jesus knew of God’s plan and that it involved the development of a class (followers of Jesus) who would be born on the spirit plane. This development was a primary work, whereas the establishment of an earthly kingdom involving Israel was secondary. In trying to help Nicodemus understand that the main purpose of his ministry was the selection and development of this class, Jesus used the natural procreative process as an illustration. God, the father (father means life-giver) would give a new life with great powers to this class. They would be born as spirit beings after their development.

The King James Version of this third chapter of John (verses three and seven) uses the expression “born again”. Other reliable translations (such as WED, Rotherham, Moffat, American Revised) use “born from above”. The emphasis is definitely that the begettal is from heaven and the birth is in heaven. Although it means being born again (a second time), it does not pertain to another earthly experience. Nicodemus asked how a person might be born when old. Was he to enter again into his mother’s womb? The answer was no. Jesus was speaking of a spirit birth, and said, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (John 3:6) Jesus also called Nicodemus’ attention to another illustration, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”—vs. 5


Jesus’ association of water with Spirit begettal and spirit birth may have caused Nicodemus to think of the work which was being done by both John the Baptist and his disciples, and the disciples of Jesus. The people of Israel were being baptized by John for the remission of sins and were being reinstated into covenant relationship with God. There was more meaning to the baptism of Jesus. Jesus had indicated by water immersion a willingness to die as a sin offering, and to be raised in newness of life (by being begotten by God’s Holy Spirit). Hence, if faithful, he would be born again on a spirit plane, and he was, upon his resurrection. But there is a further significance to the water. Water is also a symbol for Truth. Our begetting is described by the Apostle James as a begetting with the ‘word of truth.’ “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” (James 1:18) Note the reference to ‘firstfruits’ in this text. It should be compared with I Cor. 15:23, where the resurrection is described as occurring first with ‘Christ the firstfruits.’ “Every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming [Greek parousia, or presence].”

God has drawn unto Jesus, his Son, those he wants to be in his immediate family, and in turn Jesus has chosen them (see John 15:16). Consequently, God has begotten them by his Holy Spirit. This begettal is to a new nature and a heavenly hope. These have not become spirit beings immediately, but, instead, have entered a state of development. So also in the earthly illustration of procreation: the father gives life by starting the new life in embryo form; the mother nurtures and develops the embryo until finally it is born of her. The Christian, as a New Creature, begins to understand spiritual things which the natural man cannot understand. (I Cor. 2:14) But he cannot be born on the spirit plane until he completes the trial period of development (corresponding to the development of the embryo in the natural picture). The resurrection of the New Creature as a powerful spirit being corresponds to the birth on a spiritual plane.


It has been emphasized that the Greek word gennao must be associated with either father or mother to be translated as beget or born. We know that God, the Father, begets this class with the Holy Spirit. Who then is the mother that gives birth to this class of spiritual beings? We are not left in darkness concerning our mother. The Apostle Paul uses an allegory in Galatians, fourth chapter, to explain this to us. Abraham, Sarah and Hagar, Isaac and Ishmael are used as illustrations. In the allegory, Abraham represents God, the Father. Sarah as his wife, represents the original promise and covenant (called the Grace Covenant). For centuries there were no children by this covenant. So also, Sarah was barren and had no child. When Hagar was given to Abraham as a wife, she pictured the Law Covenant. Ishmael pictured natural Israel developed under the Law Covenant. Finally, the seed of promise was born—Isaac, picturing the Christ, developed under the Grace Covenant (see Gal. 3:29). The Apostle Paul made a comparison of Hagar to Mt. Sinai (symbolic of the Law Covenant), and of Sarah to Jerusalem (symbolic of the Grace Covenant), finally, saying in Galatians 4:26, “Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.” ‘Jerusalem which is above’ pertains to the heavenly promise, and the development of a heavenly class. The Apostle Paul, in support of this point, cites an Old Testament prophecy from Isaiah 54:1, “Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child: for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the Lord.”

In the fifth verse of this prophecy, it plainly states that God is the husband of this barren woman, who finally has many children. “Thy Maker is thine husband; the Lord of hosts is his name; and thy Redeemer the Holy One of Israel; The God of the whole earth shall he be called.” This prophecy tells of much rejoicing because of the many children which are born through the promise of God. So also, there will be much rejoicing when the last member of the Christ class faithfully fulfills the covenant of sacrifice, and the wonderful task of blessing all the families of the earth begins.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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