Born From Above


A journalist once asked Christian pastor and speaker Alistair Begg if he was "one of those born again Christian fellows." He replied, "Is there another kind of Christian fellow?"

Begg's pithy response cuts to the core of a widely held misconception that born again Christianity is some kind of sect of Christianity: doctrinally narrow-minded, uninformed, and wildly judgmental. The popular caricatures are the fire-and-brimstone preacher or the insinuating goody-goody à la Ned Flanders from the animated television program "The Simpsons."

While the phrase "born again Christian" does have a pejorative connotation in today's society, non-Christians are not wholly to blame for perpetuating misconceptions about it. The greatest damage is likely done by those who call themselves Christians and yet either mock or dismiss born again Christianity as being "too exclusive."

To truly understand what Christianity is — the real essence — one must go to the source. What really matters is the Biblical definition of a Christian. In fact, the term "Christian" was not part of Jesus' lexicon; it was "born again." The original Greek text in John reads as "gennao anothen," which literally means "born from above." In either version, Jesus is still referring to a second birth.

Consider this passage from John Chapter 3:

3 Jesus declared, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again."
4 "How can a man be born when he is old?" Nicodemus asked. "Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!"
5 Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.
6 "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.'"
This was not simply a matter of semantics. Nicodemus was confused on this very point because Jesus had literally said "born again." Jesus repeated these words so Nicodemus would be certain that is what He meant. To be born again means leaving the sinful self (the flesh) behind by receiving the gift of salvation (the Holy Spirit) bought for believers by Jesus' sacrifice on the Cross.

Men and women who receive Christ are therefore born again, "born from above." They have a new life in Christ as promised by God, to restore sinful men and women to His Holy Presence. The clearest example of being born again in the Bible comes in Acts Chapter 2 when the apostles are filled with the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.

A person's born again experience varies. Some are emotional, some are not. But emotion is of the flesh. What Jesus has changed is on the inside — the spirit — that which man does not see.

True Christianity is not assumed, like a new fashion or philosophy; it is not initiated by intellect or emotion or a physical action like going to church. The individual must be ready to receive Christ's eternal salvation by first realizing their culpability in sin, their willful separation from God. While the wages of sin are death, Christ's gift is life everlasting. Man has nothing to do with being born again of the Holy Spirit. That is what sets it apart from all religion, philosophy, and false Christianity.

The Apostle John wrote in John Chapter One:
12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God —
13 Children born not of natural descent nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.
If a Christian defines him or herself as one who believes in Christ's deity, His bodily resurrection, and who receives Him as their Lord and Savior, how could that same person reject Jesus' sole requirement for knowing Him? If a Christian rejects being born again of the Spirit, then what is their Christianity? Is it determined by man or by God? The Holy Spirit does not reject this blueprint, the world does. Jesus prescribed being "born from above" as the only way to be restored to the Kingdom of Heaven.

By its very terminology, "born again" means a beginning. The new believer does not stop at salvation. They mature in their relationship with Christ, but that relationship cannot occur without a beginning. There are practical applications of salvation — steps to maturation — and they include reading God's Word, fellowship with believers, and, often ignored but especially important, following God's plan for one's personal growth down to the smallest thing (from life goals to everyday decisions). And while submission to Christ in every detail of life is the hallmark of Christian maturity and stewardship, it is still an extension of being born again. Herein one arrives at the beginning and the most important choice a person makes in their entire life.