The Truth About Rebirth In The Bible
We have heard Jesus say in John 3:3: “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” But why does Jesus use the word ‘born again’? What does it really mean? And how can someone be born again without first dying? When did we die?
Today we are going to address all your questions on rebirth so let’s begin from where it all started.
The Fall of Adam
We have always heard that because Adam accepted the fruit offered by Satan, sin and misery entered into the world. But Adam and Eve’s fall from glory didn’t just occur by touching a fruit. Adam first rejected God in his mind and then by eating the fruit officially declared his rebellion and independence from God.
When Adam ate from the tree of good and evil, something crucial in his nature changed. He died spiritually. In his book ‘Not I, But Christ’, Jason Henderson conspicuously explains the fall. The fall corrupted Adam’s perception and he could no longer see God’s creation according to God’s truth because he now saw all things and comprehended through the darkened and perverted lens of self. He exchanged God’s perspective and purpose for his own thus becoming self-aware, self-consumed, and self-condemned. Man had contracted a virus of self-obsession. And this obsession with self-preservation led to anger, pride, shame, and murder. Thus, the Adamic race became a proud people who sought to live and justify their lives according to their own flawed understanding of good and bad.
Adam’s spiritual death destroyed his fellowship with God leading to his inability to live a holy life and this darkened nature was subsequently imparted to all his offsprings.
So God gave man laws, to show him his own weakness and inability to be holy by himself, thus needing a savior. The law was not given to mankind so he could attain righteousness with his own merit because God Himself knows man can’t. The bible itself says so.
Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.
By giving the laws, God was showing man His standard of righteousness that mankind could never produce while being spiritually cut off from Him. As for those who believed they could be accepted by God through attempting to keep the law, Jesus explained the distinction between outwardly modified conduct and a transformed heart. In the Sermon on the Mount, He asserted God’s law in a way that would uncover and condemn even the most dedicated religious men. He said, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder… But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment… “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart… “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.”
In saying these things, Jesus was not placing higher demands on man. On the contrary, by describing God’s standard of righteousness, Jesus wanted the Israelites to face the impossibility of true obedience in the flesh while being dead in the spirit, and accept the fact that “a bad tree can never produce good fruit.” This is what Paul meant when he said that by the law comes the knowledge of sin. The law described a nature that humans simply did not possess.
So the hereditary nature of humans had to be changed if we sought true fellowship with God.
What Comes In by Birth, Goes Out by Death
Watchman Nee in his book ‘The Normal Christian Life’ clearly describes our sin problem and God’s solution. We humans suffer from a dual sin problem:
1) The sins we commit and
2) Our inborn sin nature – the root from which all sin originates.
We are not sinners because we sin. We sin because we are born sinners. A dog barks because barking is in its nature. It doesn’t have to struggle in order to bark. Similarly, humans sin because we are born with the Adamic sin nature. Sinning comes to us naturally. The root problem, thus, lies in our heredity, not in our actions. Unless we can change our ancestry there is no deliverance for us.
Since the sins we commit emerge from the inborn sin nature, the root of this sinful nature within us had to be dealt with. What came in by birth can only go out by death. The only way to put an end to our Adamic sin nature was by our death. So at the Cross, God placed us in Christ so we died along with Him.
Thus, through the Cross, God provided a dual remedy for our dual sin problem. All the sins we commit are washed away with Jesus’ blood, thus earning us forgiveness from God. And by placing us in Christ at the Cross, the root of our sin nature is put away through our death in Him.
When the Lord Jesus was on the Cross all of us died – not individually, for we had not yet been born – but, being in Him, we died in Him. “One died for all, therefore all died” (2 Cor.5:14). When He was crucified, all of us were crucified. Now don’t go looking for death in yourself. We are not dead by ourselves but dead in Christ. God has dealt with us in Christ. This is summed up in Paul’s statement: “All we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death” (Romans 6:3).
If we feel that we have died, we have died; and if we do not feel that we have died, we have nevertheless just as surely died. Our feelings do not change the truth. These are Divine facts. That Christ has died is a fact, that the two thieves have died is a fact, and that we have died is a also fact. We have died! We are done with! We are ruled out! The sinful self we loathe is on the Cross in Christ. And “he that is dead is freed from sin” (Romans 6:7, A.V.). This is the real Gospel for Christians.
From Death to Burial
After death, the next logical step is burial.
Paul explains that baptism means burial: “We were buried therefore with Him through baptism”. Since we are dead in Christ, the next step after reckoning ourselves dead in Him is to be buried. So when we ask for baptism and step down into the water, we are outwardly declaring that in God’s sight we have already died.
Burial to Resurrection
Baptism involves the spiritual and physical act of us going under water and rising up again. The Apostle Paul explains the symbolism in this way: “When we are lowered into the water, it is like the burial of Jesus; when we are raised up out of the water, it is like the resurrection of Jesus” (Rom. 6:4 MSG).
If Christ died and remained dead, we too would stay dead with no hope beyond the grave. But through His resurrection, we are born again as a new creation. Just as being born of Adam we received the Adamic sin nature, now being born of Christ, we receive Christ’s righteous nature.
“As through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the one shall the many be made righteous.” Just as in Adam, we receive everything that is of Adam; in Christ, we receive everything that is of Christ.
Being reborn as a new species, we are also given the Holy Spirit as our Helper. Again, receiving the Holy Spirit doesn’t have anything to do with our good deeds, but because Christ rose from the dead the Holy Spirit is given to a believer as a testimony to Christ’s exaltation.
To understand this correctly let us go back to and recall how we were forgiven of all our sins. Not by struggling to do good works and impress God, but just by repenting, acknowledging our weaknesses and Christ as our savior. Similarly, the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in us not by our ‘good works’ but by putting our faith in what the Lord has already done for us at the Cross.
Because the Lord Jesus died on the Cross, we receive forgiveness of sins; because the Lord Jesus rose from the dead, we receive new life; because the Lord Jesus has been exalted to the right hand of the Father, we receive the Holy Spirit. All because of Him; nothing is because of us.