What Does ''Born Again'' Mean?

A recent Barna study revealed that 45 percent of respondents indicated that they were “born again Christians.”

That sounds like folks responding to the good news of the gospel. But then what you find is that the label of "born again Christian" has birthed itself into many different meanings, depending on age, race, location, etc.

That sounds like bad news, because now you have to wonder how many really did respond to the good news of the gospel. At least that’s my definition of being born again.

No, the definition doesn’t come from the phrase book of the radical religious right, or the sermons of a wild-eyed southern preacher. “Born again” comes from the only One who could make good on His promise to bring about a new birth.

Conversation Jesus had with Nicodemus

Here’s how the conversation from John 3 went down:

After one dark evening, a Jewish religious leader named Nicodemus, a Pharisee, came to speak with Jesus. "Teacher," he said, "we all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are proof enough that God is with you."

Jesus replied, "I assure you, unless you are born again, you can never see the Kingdom of God."

Evidently. Jesus has a pretty specific idea about what born again means - but it is also just as evident that Nick doesn’t exactly have a clue.

"What do you mean?" exclaimed Nicodemus. "How can an old man go back into his mother's womb and be born again?"

That’s a pretty good question based on a pretty disturbing mental picture. It seems like Nicodemus is genuinely curious about the whole born again concept, but stumbles when he gets to the thought process.

Jesus replied, "The truth is, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives new life from heaven. So don't be surprised at my statement that you must be born again. Just as you can hear the wind but can't tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can't explain how people are born of the Spirit."

"What do you mean?" Nicodemus asked.

Jesus replied, "You are a respected Jewish teacher, and yet you don't understand these things? I assure you, I am telling you what we know and have seen, and yet you won't believe us. But if you don't even believe me when I tell you about things that happen here on earth, how can you possibly believe if I tell you what is going on in heaven? For only I, the Son of Man, have come to earth and will return to heaven again. And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so I, the Son of Man, must be lifted up on a pole, so that everyone who believes in me will have eternal life." (John 3:5-16)

In Laymen Terms

Essentially, people who are born again are those who have experienced an internal spiritual birth brought about by the Holy Spirit. This happens when a person puts his/her faith in Christ’s death and resurrection alone for salvation.

And now here we are, 2000 years later, where the term “born again” has now been cut and pasted into a Frankenstein monster that scares the hope of heaven out of folks.

Frankly, I don’t blame them. The baggage that is packed in the trunk of this term is full of fun attitudes like self-righteous, judgmental, and condescending. It has a superior and scornful tone of voice that can leave people decidedly disgusted.

But that’s not the way Jesus intended it, and that’s not the way it has to stay. The way I see it, those of us who are “born again” as in the Jesus definition have a responsibility to change the stereotype of this term.

Just how would we go about doing that? The answer is to actually treat people the way Christ did. Born again folks should show that they really have been born again by giving, forgiving, loving, and relating.

Born again means constantly and consistently demonstrating that the Spirit of God has made you into a brand new person, who lives for much more than just yourself.

Of course you also have the option of avoiding the term all together…but the truth is born again is a fundamental part of who you are as a Christian. To avoid this phrase because people have gotten a negative impression is definitely throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. Plus, think about the positive side of bringing back that old time religion talk!

“Did you just say that you’ve been ‘born again’?”


“Wow - I never would have guessed! I always associate that term with a Ned Flanders-bullhorn yelling kind of person. So what’s your definition of ‘born again’?”

Enter the golden opportunity for a significant conversation about spiritual things, and maybe - just maybe - enter the opportunity for you to share how a person can enter the Kingdom of heaven.


Lane Palmer is the Youth Ministries Specialist for Dare 2 Share Ministries in Arvada, Colo., where he works with youth leaders and students, equipping them to be effective in sharing the gospel. For more information on Dare 2 Share Ministries, please visit www.dare2share.org. Find out how Dare 2 Share Ministries and Focus on the Family® are working together to capture the hearts of this generation of teenagers, visit www.capturetheirhearts.com Send feedback to lane@dare2share.org.