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When is One Born Again

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  “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,  23 having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever” (1 Pet 1:22-23) 

Jesus answered and said to him, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.…5 Jesus answered, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.  That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit”’ (John 3:5-6)              

The vast majority of those who consider themselves Christians claim to have been “born again”.  They connect this with their acknowledgement of Jesus Christ as savior, His sacrifice and their own rebirth after baptism.  Although their assertion seems to be supported by Peter, Messiah seems to have a different take on things.  He seems to claim that one must be born of the spirit and the one so born is spirit.   Christians claiming to be born again all readily admit to being flesh and blood.

So some have focused on Messiah’s statements and refused to believe any physical human could be born again.  This goes against Peter’s statement that obviously acknowledges his readers as being ‘born again’.  We must assume his readers were flesh and blood.

To begin to understand what is being said, we must first understand that Messiah did not actually say “unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God”.  He said “unless one is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God”.  The Greek word usually translated ‘again’ ‘anothen’, (Str. 509) primarily means ‘from above, from a higher place’ (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, (TGL)).  Obviously a significant change of some sort is asserted. 

Nicodemus said to Him, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (John 3:4)  Nicodemus obviously thought Messiah was talking of a birth.  Some have been confused, because ‘born’, ‘gennao’ (Str. 1080) is often translated beget.  The distinction, if there is any, must be made by context.  Nicodemus understood a birth was necessary. 

On the other hand, the Jews of that time used ‘gennao’ when referring to the conversion of a gentile.  Since Nicodemus was not a gentile, but a member in good standing in the Sanhedrin, the Jews governing body, it is not a surprise that he might not quickly catch on that he needed to be converted too.

Greek ‘gennao’, born, is not a technical word.  It is a general word primarily used in human or animal birth, but can also indicate something gotten or created by someone.  It is translated ‘begat’ in Matthew 1:2-16 simply because of the historical meaning of beget.  Historically beget meant ‘to obtain’, get.  Also, English doesn’t usually associate the product of a birth with the male.  The woman produces in the birth.  So we would not naturally say someone was born of a particular man.  In this case, Matthew is simply indicating the person credited as being responsible or obtaining the offspring, not even necessarily the one that did the engendering as in the case of Mary (vs. 16).  The Liddell and Scott Lexicon indicates a meaning of “produce from oneself, create”.  Their secondary meaning is “produce, grow, get”.

The word is also used when Herod inquired where Messiah would be ‘born’ (Mat 2:4).  He was obviously not concerned about where the begettal or conception would take place.  He was interested in where He would be born or produced.

Clearly the word can be connected with the time before actual birth.  Matthew 1:20 talks of the unborn Messiah while still in Mary.  Most translations in this case refer to what is ‘conceived’ in Mary.  It would be a bit more accurate to say that which is ‘being produced’ in Mary.  This particular case happens to be aorist, participle.  Aorist does not concern itself with past, present or future.  A participle tends to indicate an ongoing condition.  So the focus of ‘gennao’ in this case is not the moment of conception, but what was ‘being produced’, growing, in Mary.

Peter in 1 Peter 1:22 used the Greek ‘anagennao’, (Str. 313), which primarily means ‘to produce again, be born again, born anew’ (TGL).  He also includes the thought that they were born, “not of corruptible seed but incorruptible” (Vs. 23b).  The believer’s ‘birth’ was not of physical human origin, but incorruptible origin.  It is apparent Peter is talking of the involvement of the Creator by means of the preaching of the Gospel.  Is this birth involving the ‘incorruptible’ different from that mentioned by Messiah ‘from above’?

Even though worded differently, it seems apparent that Messiah and Peter are talking of a very similar thing.  One talks of being born from above, the other from an incorruptible source, which would also be from above.  It is apparent Peter thinks the event has already happened.

Paul also talks of a similar change into the way of God.  “and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph 4:24)  He is exhorting the Ephesians to a new life of holiness, re-creating themselves in accordance with the Creator.  It seems this also could be considered a re-birth, being born again.  It is obviously a change that they were to make, remaking themselves in the image of God.

As it turns out John also has something to say about one who is born of God.  “If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born [gennao] of him.” (1 John 2:29 KJV).  Those who consistently do righteousness have experienced birth from the Creator.

Can these be talking of different experiences?  Can someone who becomes a new man, made according to the blueprint of the Father, righteous and holy, experience something different from someone reborn of incorruptible origin, namely the Father?  Is this different than being born from above?

Consider also how Paul described a believer.

5 " For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit." (Rom 8:5)

A believer is to have completely different values and mentality.  He is not to be focused on the cares and entertainment of this life, but on seeking the improvement of his mentality.   “but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen” (II Pet 3:18).  Peter here is describing the same focus of mind that Paul did above.  We are to expand our understanding of the Messiah and His graciousness.  By examining and pondering His example we can enable the upgrading of our mentality.

John has more to say about those who are born of God:

1John 4:7, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born (gennao) of God and knows God.

1John 5:1, “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born (gennao) of God, and everyone who loves Him who begot (gennao) also loves him who is begotten (gennao) of Him.”

Unfortunately, there is a lot of confusion in this world about what ‘love’ is and what believing that Messiah is ‘born of God’ is.  “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments.” (1 John 5:2)  Love is not just an emotion we feel toward someone, but it is accompanied by positive action to do what is best for the one loved and what pleases them.  Certainly believers have a strong emotional feeling toward their Creator.  They also show the evidence by living in accord with the instruction the Creator gave us. 

1John 5:4, “For whatever is born (gennao) of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world––our faith.”

The faith of the believer overcomes the corrupting influence of this society.  Those born of the Father also overcome the world.  The spirit of life that is in Messiah lives in the believer and with the willing mind  of the believer frees him from the pulls of the flesh (Rom 8:2).  “And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal 5:24).  “And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:3).  “and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him” (Col 3:10).

All those scriptures describe a spirit led believer that has overcome the world, follows the example of our Messiah and is a new man reflecting the values of the Father like Messiah did.  These scriptures are not describing spirit beings, but people who on the surface look like anyone else.  The difference is that their nature and values are not rooted in the care and feeding of themselves, but in conduct properly representative of the Creator. 

1John 3:9  “Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot [continue to] sin, because he has been born of God.”

When one’s values reflect the Creator one lives as the Creator would live.  The Father does not sin.  Neither should His Children. 

II Cor 6:14-7:1)  “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?  15 And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever?  16 And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: "I will dwell in them And walk among them. I will be their God, And they shall be My people."  17 Therefore "Come out from among them And be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, And I will receive you."  18 "I will be a Father to you, And you shall be My sons and daughters, Says the LORD Almighty."  7:1  Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”

There is no agreement or peace between darkness and light or sin and righteousness.  We are also His temple, His home.  There should be no darkness in it.  To be the children of the Creator we should act like the Creator not Satan.  The Creator is not interested in sharing us with this world or competing for our attention. 

And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him” (Acts 5:32).  Walk in the light as He is in the light. 

The gift of the spirit of God is predicated on obedience to His instruction (John 14:15-16).  This author has been unable to find scripture that indicates the spirit is given to those that usually or sometimes obey.  “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me…” (John 14:21ab)  “…If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word” (John 14:23bc).  Proper consistent obedience is enabled by the holy spirit.  We need to clean ourselves (Jas 4:7-8).  Once we have made that commitment He will bless that effort with the added support of His spirit (Acts 5:32).  He expects us to overcome this world’s enticements and break off participation in its ways, i.e., come out of it (Rev 18:4, John 17:15).  This is not impossible. 

Is it then impossible for the believer to sin?  A.T. Robertson, (a professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary at Louisville, Kentucky and author of A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in Light of Historical Research), examines this thought in 1 John 3:9 that indicates a believer is unable to sin.  “This is a wrong translation…The present active infinitive hamartanein can only mean ‘and he cannot go on sinning’…” (Word pictures in the New Testament, Vol VI, p. 223)

So, John is not saying it is impossible for a believer to sin, but that they must change.  They simply can’t allow themselves to continue to sin.  Indeed, John says this in 1 John 2:1.  IF we sin Messiah is our advocate with the Father.  John does not say ‘when we sin’ or ‘every time we sin’.  He allows that believers might sin, but the expectation is that they will not.  (See ‘Death, Taxes & Sin’ for a detailed examination of John and Paul’s statements on believers sinning.)

When Messiah did miracles by the spirit of God He represented the Kingdom of God (Mat 12:28).  The kingdom of God was in fact reaching out by means of Messiah to make itself known to that place and time.  When the things of the spirit are our focus we are living in the spiritual realm.  We represent the kingdom of God as well.  We are living as if in His realm, in the spirit, even though we are still flesh and blood.  Could Messiah’s assertion distinguishing the spirit as “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes…” apply to people that are still flesh and blood?

John 5: 24 "Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.

If they have passed from death into life, have they not also passed from flesh into spirit?

But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you.” (Rom 8:9ab)

But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one.” (1Cor 2:14-15)

The essential elements are the same.  Those of the flesh perceive there is something there in the believer, but they are unable to really put their finger on it.  They don’t understand what the spiritually minded person is really about.  Their experience forces them to assume that the person focusing on the spirit has the same fleshly mentality that they do.  This is not the case.  The one living in the spirit has the selfless mentality of Messiah that gave up His glory with the Father and became human to be ridiculed and brutally murdered in order to be able to purge our error.

Consider Messiah’s statement “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” in connection with Acts 2:38.  ‘Then Peter said to them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”’  Baptism is picturing our death and rebirth, a resurrection to a new life (Rom 6:4).  If it is combined with true repentance the gift of the spirit of God comes then as well.  So it is no stretch to say that being born of water and spirit was intended to happen at baptism.  The water is the baptism itself.  The spirit gives new life and focus to the mind producing a new man representative of the kingdom of God.

Messiah indicated that he was telling Nicodemus ‘earthly’ things (John 3:12).  His use of ‘born of the spirit’ then, is included in these earthly things.  Are spirit beings of the earth?  Spirit beings are of heaven even if they have fallen out of favor with the Creator.  So it is much more likely that Messiah was thinking exactly what Paul stated in Romans 8:9, quoted above.  One who has the spirit of God is in the spirit.  He will not be properly understood by the average person.  He is not just flesh and blood, but a product of the spirit of God, born from above.

1John 5:18  “We know that whoever is born [gennao] of God does not sin; but he who has been born [gennao]  of God keeps himself, and the wicked one does not touch him.”

Again John tells us that one born, produced, of God does not sin.  This is describing human believers.  They keep themselves and are not influenced by Satan.  There is a change in mentality that allows them to toss off the enticements that trap most people.  “And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Gal 5:24)  It’s not that they are ascetics (although by this world’s standards it might seem that way), but they are careful to represent the Creator in all their dealings.  Consequently they are not overly interested in the comforts and pleasures of this world.

John 6:54  "Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day…56 He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.  57 As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me.

Likely this refers to the bread and wine memorial of Messiah’s death and the annual renewal of the New Covenant (Luke 22:19, 1 Cor 11:24-26).  Anyone who has taken hold of that covenant should be living to the standard Messiah expects.  According to Messiah they have eternal life in them now.  With Messiah in them and eternal life in them can we say they are merely flesh and blood?  Because we can’t see a halo or the nail prints in the hand does not mean it is not so.

What happens to our mind at the return of Messiah?

Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed–– 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.  53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.  54 So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory."’ (1 Cor 15:51-54)

The mortal will become immortal.  Death will be eliminated.  Our bodies will be changed at the return of Messiah.  Believers will be given a new body that will not die.  There is no mention of a change in the mind.  The mind will not be changed.  It should have already been transformed.  “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Rom 12:2)  Believers exchange their own priorities for those of the Creator.  They commit their conduct to the Creator, to live in His ways. 

Phil 3:20-21, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,  21 who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.”

Rom 8:23, “Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.

II Cor 5:1, “For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

Although many think their mind will be ‘fixed’ as a spirit being there is simply no scripture that indicates this.  Certainly those changed will not sin, but this doesn’t mean their mind is ‘fixed’ at the resurrection.  The person born again, born from above, born of God, the new man has already been living in the spirit according to the ways of His Creator.  There is no need to tinker with their mind at the resurrection.  They are diligently seeking to improve their mentality in accord with Messiah and the Father.  It is their nature to walk in His Ways and keep His Laws.

"For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” (Heb 8:10)

Once someone keeps His laws as a matter of his nature the Creator has made him in His image.  By their own hand and action He has made a people for Himself in His image.  Experience will produce better understanding, but the fundamental mentality of the children is molded in the pattern of the Father.  They keep themselves from evil.  There is no need to fix them so they don’t sin.  They have already proven themselves.  They willingly submit themselves to support the Creator’s cause.  Neither will the Creator need to constantly check up on someone who actively seeks His will.

Only having our body changed at the return of Messiah does not make that change a non-event.  It is really a monumental event worthy of great celebration.  It is the culmination of the whole purpose for which the creation was made to be.  It is though a mechanical event, a physical change.  Apparently something Messiah will be able to take care of in an instant (1 Cor 15:52).  It is also a birth of sorts.  It’s just not likely the particular one to which Messiah was referring in John 3. 

In Colossians 1:15-18, Messiah is called the firstborn of creation and the firstborn of the dead.  In neither of these births is Paul talking about a change of the mind or something that allowed Messiah to finally “see” the Kingdom.  Messiah knew what the Kingdom was about.  He was never rebellious as humans have been.  Being firstborn from the dead did not make Him anymore a child of the Creator than He had been before.  It did enable Him to fully participate in the inheritance the Father wished Him to have.  It also indicated the completion of His preparation to be our judge, High Priest and Savior.

The remaking of the mind is truly the greater of the two.  That is evidently something the Creator cannot do instantaneously.  Certainly that makes sense since we must be a willing and knowledgeable participant.  As of that event the believer has the tools necessary to understand the mind, purpose and cause of the Creator.  They have been made in the image and likeness of the Creator, just not of the same material.   They are the special product, born of God and misunderstood by the world.

1John 3:1  “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.

Eph 1:13-14  “In him you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit,  14 which is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” (RSV)

The receipt of the spirit of God is a guarantee of the ultimate inheritance.  It is just a matter of time before the final receipt of our inheritance.  One who receives the spirit of God, lives a new life focused on the spirit.  He is able to do so because he “sees”, the Kingdom of God.  He understands and supports in action what the Creator is doing with this creation.  This is not to say it is impossible for Him to fall away, but it is highly unlikely.

The final change to spirit enables the Creator to give us “all things” (Rev 21:7).  Our physical body and power is obviously limited now.  He can give us this power because He knows that we will care for it as He would.  He doesn’t want the sin of Lucifer to be repeated.

Eze 28:16  "By the abundance of your trading You became filled with violence within, And you sinned; Therefore I cast you as a profane thing Out of the mountain of God; And I destroyed you, O covering cherub, From the midst of the fiery stones.”

There are evidently things in the spirit realm that one can accumulate and acquire.  Lucifer evidently became focused on those things.  They became his god.  He lost sight of what was right and good in order to promote himself.  If we can overcome his influence in this world controlled by him, we should have no trouble rejecting his way in favor of the right ways of the Creator in the Kingdom of God.

Now is the time to humble ourselves to serve Him.  Our mind is us.  We will take our mind into His kingdom.  If our mind does not reflect the mentality of the Creator, He will not give it immortality.  Sin separates us from the Creator (Isa 59:2).  “He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son” (Rev 21:7).   “But as it is written: "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him" (1Cor 2:9).  The Creator will not give us power over all things if we cannot be trusted to share and care for it the way He does.  He wants His realm to reflect Him, not this world and Satan.