Born Again: What Does It Mean?

In the Bible, one evening Jesus spoke with a man about his need to be born again.  A few years later,Peter, one of Jesus’ first followers, wrote about being born again.  We’ll get to those in a few moments.        

Yes, the term “born again” is a biblical term.  For those of you who might be old enough, perhaps you’ll remember that the term became quite well known because it was used so often by Billy Graham in his great evangelistic crusades around the world…and by American President Jimmy Carter who spoke openly about his experience of having been born again. 

In fact, the term was bantered about so much by the media that for a few years, it became secularized:  businesses were being born again; certain actors were enjoying born again careers, people were born again when they purchased a new home, certain foods would cause grocery shoppers to be born again healthwise, and so it went ad infinitum.  In respect to religion, over time it almost took on a negative concept as an experience only for weak-willed, uneducated people who needed to be born again because they couldn’t successfully manage their own lives.  The biblical meaning of the term changed markedly and began to be misunderstood and overused.  And in many respects that misunderstanding continues to this day. Many people mistakenly feel it’s merely a term for starting over.

Having mentioned those misuses of the term born again, now let me write very briefly about my own experience of being born again.  I was 18 years old, newly enlisted in the United States Armed Forces, and one morning I was in the barracks where I lived during my first duty assignment after basic training.  It was 8:00 a.m. Tuesday, April 24, 1956, almost 65 years ago from when I’m writing this.  I shouted at God, demanding that He make Himself  real to me and come into my life.  He did!  That was my born again experience.  If you’re interested in learning more details, you can read more about my experience in my autobiography, Him ‘n me, available from amazon.com.

Shortly after I was born again, I became all excited and asked God if I could write about what being born again by Him means.  He replied, “No, not yet; I’ll let you know when.”  Periodically through these 65 years since I was born again, I have asked God if it was time yet for me to teach about being born again.  His reply has always been, “No, not yet; I’ll let you know when.”  Finally, just this morning at 8: a.m. Friday, January 30, 2021, God finally gave me his long-awaited go-ahead to teach about the biblical experience of being born again.  Why has He waited this long?  I have no clue, but this teaching is the result of Him giving me the go-ahead…finally.  God isn’t bound to the restraints of time as we are.  When it’s his time, it’s his time, and I’m simply being obedient to Him after waiting for 65 years.

Here’s the scenario when Jesus spoke about being born again.  It was evening.  Nicodemus, a highly regarded, prominent religious leader of Jesus’ day came to Him and said:  “I know you’re a teacher come from God, for no one performs the miracle signs that you do unless they are in union with God and his  power is with him.”

Jesus didn’t respond directly to Nicodemus’ statement, but simply answered, “Nicodemus, listen to this eternal truth:  Before a person can perceive God’s Kingdom realm, they must first experience a rebirth [be born again]. 

Nicodemus responded:  “Rebirth?  How can a grey-headed man like me be born again?  It’s impossible for a person to re-enter a mother’s womb a second time and be reborn!”   Again Jesus answered:  “I speak an eternal truth:  Unless you are born of the water of the womb and the wind of the Spirit, you will never enter God’s Kingdom realm.  For the natural realm can only give birth to things that are natural, but the spiritual realm gives birth to supernatural life!  You shouldn’t be amazed by my statement, ‘You must be born from above!’  For the wind of the Spirit blows as He chooses.  You can hear his sound and see the effects, but you don’t know where He comes from or where He’s going.  So it is within the hearts of those who are Spirit-born!”

Then Nicodemus replied, “But I don’t understand, what do you mean?  How does this happen?”

Again Jesus answered, “Nicodemus, aren’t you the respected teacher in Israel, and yet you don’t understand this revelation…?    (from The Passion Translation and further paraphrased by me)

Later, here’s what Peter wrote to some early followers of Jesus about 30 years after Jesus’ statement:  “…Through the eternal and living Word of God you have been born again.  And this ‘seed’ that he planted within you can never be destroyed, but will live and grow within you for all time and eternity.”      (from The Passion Translation and further paraphrased by me)

Now let me write my feeble attempts to explain and clarify—and give some background information about why every human ever born should choose to be born again.

When each of us is born naturally (by water) from our human mother, we are born with three components to our beings as humans:  body, soul, and spirit.  Of course, we all know what our body is.  Our soul is our mind, our psyche, our personality—that part of us that makes up our natural character and nature.  The spirit component of our beings is that part of us that connects with God.  Incidentally, many people mistakenly believe that soul and spirit are the same; they are not!  Originally, these 3 components of humans were equal—in harmony, in perfect balance, and fully integrated, with the spirit being (in a sense) “chief among equals,” having pre-eminence or ascendancy over our body and soul.  In the beginning, the spirit-component was full of light, glowing, pulsating with radiance. Long, long ago, once the human spirit “died” (as the Bible puts it), body and soul gained pre-eminence and ascendancy over spirit, and spirit began to “die.”

Yes, due to the entrance of sin into our lives, our spirit-component died:  became darkened—atrophied, withered, dried up, and the brilliant light within us became only a mere, flickering candle, barely producing any light.  Yet, however faint and flickering it might be, that candle still burns, and God is still within each human. When the human spirit died because of sin, people began to feel lost and disconnected from God because his light within them became so tiny and dim. 

What is this phenomena called sin that darkened our spirits?  The best way I describe sin is me, Me, ME!  Sin is being self-centered and self-absorbed instead of being God-centered. It is having a delusion of independence and separation from God, of controlling one’s own life without God.  One wrapped up in oneself makes a very small bundle!

In it’s simplest terms, being born again is when Jesus enters our spirit in his “unbodied form” of Holy Spirit, and that tiny flickering candle in our spirit begins to burn ever brighter with Jesus’ new LIFE within us.  We begin a lifelong, loving, and eternal relationship with the Living God by inviting Jesus to take up permanent residence in our lives—in our spirits.  Our bodies, souls, and spirits begin to be equal, harmonized, and integrated again.

Okay, that’s the ACT of being born again—an act that happens in a nanosecond of time, but its aftereffects continue through all of this life and then into Eternal Realms.  Once we’re born again, Jesus promises He will never leave us nor forsake us because He is changeless and eternal.  Upon their invitation (whatever form that invitation takes), Jesus enters one’s life in his unbodied form of Holy Spirit Who coalesces, blends inseparably, and melds with one’s spirit and the two become one spirit:  God and man inseparably joined together as one for all time and eternity.

Are you a fisherman?  Have you ever done any fishing?  One of the first things you learn about the art of fishing is that you must clean the fish before they are caught, right?  No, you clean the fish after they are caught.  For a person to be born again, he or she doesn’t have to “clean up” their life in order to approach God, or for God to accept them and give them new birth into his Kingdom.  No, the cleaning up of a person’s life commences after they are born again.  The cleaning of one’s life is a lifelong process that the newly born again person and God work at together, empowered by Holy Spirit who has come to live inside that person.

Being born again is not simply making yourself righteous by your own self-efforts, somehow gritting your teeth and struggling mightily to make internal changes all by yourself in order to be born again.  Being born again is not self-reformation.  It’s not practicing what some religious guru tells you that you must do in order to lead a good life.  It’s not following the principles taught by some “positive” teacher.  No, it’s not any sort of self-effort to change your thinking or behavior; such attempts at change may be good for a person, but they are not the supernatural act of Jesus coming into your life when you are born again, followed by a new life for all time and eternity. 

And, being born again is not any sort of religious, liturgical, or ritualistic act you perform, as many types of religious leaders might have you believe.

Now let’s examine what happens after that nanosecond in time when Jesus comes into one’s life

Perhaps you were kneeling when you were born again…or standing…or sitting…or walking…or lying down…or driving…whatever, whenever, and wherever.  Every person’s experience of being born again is distinct and unique, “custom-tailored” just for them as a unique individual.  And—being born again goes by many different names for the experience:  getting saved, converted, believing on Jesus, getting faith, finding God at the end of one’s rope, becoming Christ-conscious, seeing the light, hitting the sawdust trail, going forward in an evangelistic meeting, confirming one’s baptism as a baby, igniting one’s childhood confirmation, and a number of other similar terms. 

Please don’t make the mistake of attempting to understand your own experience of being born again in the light of another’s experience; don’t compare your born again experience with that of any other person.  No two are ever the same because every person is a unique creation of God. Please don’t ever judge another person as having not been born again because their experience is not the same as yours…or the same as your church might teach—because another person didn’t use the correct wording or “formula” to invite Jesus into their life.  If you do that, you are actually being “anti-Christ!”  The only critical and important factor is whether or not Jesus enters one’s life at their invitation.

I’m going to be generalizing now for a few paragraphs in a feeble attempt to explain what happens after a person is born again; I’m attempting to tie together a wide variety of individual experiences, so don’t feel you have to experience all of these as I attempt to describe them.  You are unique; your experience of being born again will be unlike any others.  But see if any of these experiences I describe below “fit” you.

What I have written in the following few paragraphs is based on my own experience of being born again as well as what various other people have told me they experienced when they were born again, and for some time thereafter—some for only a few moments, some for days, some for weeks.  It’s sort of a composite description of various experiences people have had.  You may experience similar phenomena, or only some, or none, similar to these.  Also, I have borrowed some of the following thoughts from something I read years ago, but I can’t remember where!  If any of my readers know where some of these thoughts were written previously, please let me know; I don’t want to be guilty of plagiarism…

Sometimes people have actually felt and “heard” a great silence as though the entire universe and all of time and eternity is hushed, silent, and still.  Sometimes the silence envelops people so that they cannot even move, although their muscles cry out to run, dance, sing, gyrate, fall to the floor—whatever.  The whole of everything around some people seems to cease motion.  They may “hear” the universe singing. Some people hear bells pealing softly from afar.  There is something occurring beyond one’s understanding.  For some, it may seem as if the entirety of the universe is focused on them, and from somewhere beyond comprehension a Great Being—God—is reaching out to them.  One’s mind might actually swim with the mystery of trying to comprehend it all.  One who is finite cannot grasp much of that which is infinite.

Often a balm of peace floods one’s being—peace, forgiveness, cleansing, new life.  Calmness.   Security.  A knowing beyond logic and reason.  An all-encompassing inner warmth as a love beyond anything previously experienced floods one’s being.  Some can feel the smile of their Creator, drawing them into a new world of true LIFE, giving them a new sense of purpose and destiny.  There’s an intimacy that’s sweet and overpowering.  God pours out his eternal love into a person’s life—a pure, unadulterated love people have never before experienced and could never have imagined before being born again.

Many—not all—who are born again find themselves weeping unashamedly with love and joy because of Him who has entered them.  Weeping may continue for a while:  days, weeks—especially at night when they are alone in private with their new Savior.  And such weeping may occur at strange times and places to the point where they might become embarrassed and humbled.  Those tears are simply gentle, cleansing “rain” God is using to wash away their sin and their sometimes shameful past and misdeeds.

On the other hand, many who are newly born again find themselves incessantly laughing—almost giggling—at various times and in many situations where it’s almost embarrassing.  It’s what the Bible calls “the joy of the Lord,” when people are actually invited by God to come laugh and enjoy the laughter and joy of the Trinity:  Father, Son, and Spirit in their delightful, joyful relationship with one another. Joy is the pervasive attitude and sound of Heaven, infusing all things in that fair land beyond this mortal life.

Some people have felt swaddled in a cozy, warm blanket of incredible love.  Some feel like a butterfly when it breaks free from the restrictive cocoon and takes flight for the first time.  They describe an incredible freedom of both soul and spirit.  Some experience a heavy weight lifted from their inner being—a weight they had attempted to carry by themselves for years.  In some instances, people have actually been healed physically when they have been born again.

For some, when they are born again their past seems far away and distant in both time and space, yet not really so long ago in the ever-shifting sands of time.  The distance is in their thoughts and sometimes painful, haunting memories they now know they will be able to forget for the very first time in their lives.  For the first time, they will truly be able to put their past behind them, no longer chains that held them bound.  They can now live in the present, and look forward to a bright future guided by the loving hand of God whom they now know is altogether good and absolutely everything He does is good.

Some seem to have an experience duplicating some of the scenario of Psalm 23:  resting in the Great Shepherd’s luxurious love; finding themselves in an oasis of peace by a quiet brook of Living Water; feeling their life is restored and revived; God’s comfort and love become very real; they feel they are dining at a great love-feast prepared by the Shepherd; they are enveloped in the Shepherd’s great love, mercy, and grace—knowing those three attributes of God will follow them for all time and eternity; all loneliness is gone…   (These few thoughts are borrowed from The Passion Translation of the Bible.)     

Some find God, for whom—even unknowingly—they have long sought.  But, they discover He has sought them forever, and now they know they are persons of worth and dignity.  Some people discover that Someone has begun working on the “piece of clay” that that they are.  And that working and molding the clay by God the Potter will continue for all time and eternity.  What they may have scarcely dared to believe in times past—or had faith about—now becomes a reality—but a reality beyond the comprehension of the five senses; it’s a new, inner faith-sense transcending all normal human senses.  Some now know in their “knower” that God is real!  In fact, shortly after my experience of being born again, the words of an old song It’s Real became the song of my life that I sang, hummed, and whistled just about everywhere I went; here are a few words from that song that are most meaningful to me: 

O how well do I remember that I doubted day by day,
For I did not know for certain that my sins were washed away.
When the Spirit tried to tell me I would not the truth receive;
I endeavored to be happy and to make myself believe.

Chorus:
But it’s real, it’s real!  O I know it’s real!
Praise God, the doubts are settled for I know it’s real!

So I prayed to God in earnest, and not caring what others said,
I was hungry for God’s salvation; my darkened spirit must be fed.
Then at last by faith I touched Him, and like sparks from smitten steel,
Just so quick salvation reached me.  O bless God I know it’s real!

Chorus again                               (I changed a few of the words in the song)

When a person is born again, sometimes there is a curious and unsettling sensation of new movement somewhere deep within that person, at a depth in their spirit the person didn’t know was within them, of a turning in that person’s mind and spirit toward a new point on some sort of internal lodestone.  In an instant of time, life takes on new meaning, mystery, movement, and direction.  Some areas of darkness inside the person suddenly become flooded with light—the light beginning to drive out the darkness of sin, addictions, hurtful habits, wounded or severed relationships, traumatic memories of the past, and obsessions.  There is a sense of new, meaningful purpose for one’s life, whereas before, one might have just been drifting through life before being born again—trying their best to live a good, decent life by their own efforts, but all too often failing over and over in their attempts.

When some people are born again in their spirits, they feel a great surge of new strength and power to overcome their past–like rushing white water currents and rapids cascading through their bodies and spirits, giving them inner strength and power they never before imagined might be available to deal with all of life in an open and honest manner.

In some mysterious manner, when one is born again by Jesus entering their life when they invite Him in, there is a sense that one is beginning one’s earthly life and mortal journey all over again; Jesus begins to do in, through, and as that person the same things He did when He was here in the flesh 2,000 years ago:  going about doing good and healing all whom He touched.  Reaching out through that person to encourage, comfort, console, and build up others.  There is often a new desire to humbly serve God and others in some manner. One often opens up their life to a new perception that God might be “calling” them to some form of service such as ministry, missions, helping or feeding the poor, and the like.

There is often the strong urge to make amends, to forgive, to reach out to mend broken relationships, to reach out for new, healthier relationships, to bind up old wounds and hurts, to settle old debts, to look up an old friend whom one wounded in the past, to give back something stolen, to make reparations, to confess past sins that have hurt others, an overwhelming sense of being “clean” for the first time in one’s life, and the need to live a new, clean life empowered by Holy Spirit within them.  These—and many other—such phenomena begin to mysteriously occur in one’s life after they experience being born again.  Perhaps for the first time in their life, the newly born again person begins to experience freedom from depression, a turning away from their newly forgiven and forgotten past, a bubbling up of joy from deep within, and rock-solid hope for the future never previously experienced.

When one is born again, one begins to realize that all along there has been a micro-universe inside that person, created by God never to cease to exist.  One begins to slowly realize that God created that person as a living wonder freshly exploded into being when they were born again—an inner micro-universe within a vast, unbounded macro-universe, the newly born again person designed for loving, eternal fellowship with God and with other people throughout all the eons of time to come and in Eternal Realms.  In a sense, the micro-universe within becomes comparatively far “larger” and more vast than the macro-universe all around that person.  The “universe” inside the newly born again person begins to be much larger that the universe outside that person!

Before a person is born again, it’s as if they had been stumbling around in life with their eyes closed.  Then, when one is born again, instantly they are able to see—really see—for the first time.  Blinders are removed and they have a new sense of life in general—of purpose, of destiny.  Something dead inside them begins to come to life—a part of them never before recognized, never named, just waiting to be awakened from deadness, emptiness, and futility.  It’s not merely an increased ability to sense and appreciate one’s world, but a new awareness…of something more, something wonderful just over the horizon beyond what that person has previously known.

When one is born again, something inside that person wakens from a deep sleep.  Like the early morning shadows of dawn that reveal faint images, when one is newly born again, that person begins to have a strange new inner awareness—an inner knowing—of things they had not known before—things they never knew existed.  They begin to see into an inner, holy, Spirit-world beyond the five senses, a vast unbounded world of joy and delight, of peace, of a new reality.  That person realizes they have been transferred from this world of darkness to a new world of light and eternal LIFE.  All colors they see seem enhanced and much more vivid.

The person who is newly born again realizes that inside them now is a tiny, pulsating, bright, piercing intense point of light, a tiny, scintillating sphere in their midsection, in their spirit, at the core of their being.  They realize that two worlds have intersected:  the invisible world of the Eternal Realms outside of and transcending time and space and the visible realm they experience in time and space with their five senses.  They begin to discover that which is incomprehensively vast becomes indescribably small—where infinity becomes finite, the invisible visible, where He Who is Beyond-The-Universe is Self-reduced to a pinpoint of intense light within them as a person newly born again.  They find that the King of all Creation begins to reign as King of their inner kingdom—that God has come to reign on the inner throne of their life.

Some people write the date and time (if they know them) that they were born again—as a reminder to them in years to come.  Some also write in detail about their experience of having been born again, so that they can always go back and “relive” the experience as a reminder to them about when they began their journey With God.  Some continue journaling about their ongoing relationship with God as the years fly by all too swiftly.  In essence, that’s what I did…that ended up being my published autobiography.

As mentioned earlier, you may have experienced all of these phenomena, or some of them, or none of them when you were born again (or when you will be born again).  Also, as mentioned previously, because each of us is a unique creation of God, He always custom-tailors all his experiences with us…so that each experience we have in our relationship with Him is most often different from anyone else’s experience.   Don’t feel badly if you don’t experience some wild, adventuresome experience someone else describes.  Just enjoy whatever distinct relationship you have begun with the Living God by being born again.

I have pretty well run out of words in my limited, finite human language to describe what often happens to a person when they are newly born again.  If any of what I have written “rings a bell” for you, I praise God for that.  At the most basic level, the important point is to invite Jesus into your life.  He will enter your spirit in his unbodied form of Holy Spirit, and much of what I have described will begin to occur inside you at your current level of understanding and present state of awareness:  an experience with the Living God that will begin to change and transform your life for all time and eternity as you realize how deeply He loves you and what He has done to make a vital, intimate, loving relationship with Him possible for you when you are born again.

I want to emphasize that being born again is just the starting point.  What follows is a lifetime journey of following Jesus—for the remainder of your mortal life here…and later in your new, immortal life in Eternal Realms after you die and enter Jesus’ bright Kingdom.  It’s really not the born again person who can be labeled a Christian by virtue of having been born again.  That’s only the beginning of becoming an authentic Christian—of a joy-full and adventuresome journey through life continuing on into Eternal Realms.  It’s the follower of Jesus who “sticks it out,” following and journeying with Jesus through this life and into the next, who is the authentic Christian as described throughout the New Testament.  Yes, being born again is merely the starting point!

Again, speaking of being born again as only the starting point—even though a person may pray to invite Jesus into their life—some do not go on from there to give their entire life totally and unreservedly to God.  Such people give only a piece of themselves—not realizing that being a lifelong Christian demands a foundational necessity of total, sacrificial commitment to God.  Becoming a Christian with a prayer of invitation is only the beginning of the road, not the end of it.  Unfortunately, many people simply walk through the “salvation door,” and then stop.  That beginning step is not some miracle cure…and that’s the end of it.  No! It takes a lifetime to live out one’s salvation after stepping through that door.

For an interesting, true account of what Heaven—the next stage of the journey after this all-too-short life—is really like, I invite you to read my book, Heaven:  Our Home Sweet Homeland, an account of a visit to Heaven I experienced on March 6, 2018, when God invited me to visit that fair land to which we go beyond death and the grave.  My book is available at amazon.com as an e-book, in soft cover, and hardcover. 

Bill Boylan
Life Enrichment Services, Inc.
leservices38@yahoo.com
Revised and Updated 2-24-2021

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