“Salvation” series (post #9)
Jesus answered and said to him (Nicodemus), “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3, N.K.J.V.)
The Bible teaches that each individual consists of a body, a soul, and a spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:23). Just as it takes God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit to make up one God, it takes a body, a soul, and a spirit to make up one person. In this way, we are somewhat like God in that we are triune beings. The difference is that our body, soul, and spirit aren’t each distinct persons, as is the case with the three members of the holy Trinity.
Now, Jesus said that an individual cannot see the kingdom of God unless that individual is born again. But what exactly does that mean? To answer that, let’s refer back to those three different parts of a person.
First, does the person’s body need to be born again? No. That’s the question Nicodemus asked when he replied, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”
Second, does the person’s soul need to be born again? No. The soul is eternal; it cannot die. The soul is that part of you that goes into the afterlife when your body dies (Genesis 35:18). We might say that your soul is the real you. This explains why verses such as Psalm 6:3 and Ezekiel 18:20 use the word “soul” to speak of the entire person. Think of this way: You are a soul who is right now living inside a body.
Third, does the person’s spirit need to be born again? Evidently, this is the case. A parallel passage on this subject is Ephesians 2:1, which speaks of people as being “dead in trespasses and sins.” If neither the person’s body or soul is dead, that only leaves the spirit. So, while in one sense the spirit is that part of the individual that animates the human body (James 2:26; Ecclesiastes 12:7), in another sense it is that part that houses the capacity for the kind of worship and communion with God that Adam and Eve enjoyed before the fall.
This is what Jesus meant when He told the Samaritan woman at the well, “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24, N.K.J.V.). You see, Jesus didn’t say that we must worship God “in body” or “in soul.” It’s the spirit that earns that unique distinction.
Putting everything together, what scripture seems to teach is that each of us is born with an inner spirit that isn’t functioning as it was originally designed to function. It’s doing fine at bringing life to our otherwise lifeless body and thus creating physical life, but it’s downright shut down when it comes to creating spiritual life. Therefore, each of us is born “dead in trespasses and sins” and needs what we might call a resurrection in our spirit. That’s why Jesus said, “You must be born again” (John 3:7).
But just exactly how do we go about being born again? What does it take to be spiritually reborn? Is there a course we must purchase? Is there a five-step process? The answer is: The moment you place saving belief in Jesus, you are instantly born again. Believing in Jesus is your part; bringing you to life spiritually is God’s part.
Let me explain how this works. In John 3:5-8, Jesus describes being born again as being born “of the Spirit” (capital S, referring to God the Holy Spirit). Specifically, He says, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” You see, the moment you place saving belief in Jesus, God the Holy Spirit comes to take up literal residence inside your body (Romans 8:9-11; 1 Corinthians 6:19), and He is the one who fixes your defective spirit and allows it to function as it should. This is all part of the “new birth” experience the Holy Spirit creates inside you.
The apostle Paul described the Holy Spirit’s entrance as “the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5), and the apostle John described it as being “born of God” (1 John 5:1). What else could John have been referring to except being “born again”? So, to be born again is to be born of God the Holy Spirit.
John also associated the new birth with having “eternal life” (1 John 5:10-13). Most people hear that term “eternal life” and wrongly put the emphasis on the word “eternal,” as if having eternal life simply means existing forever somewhere in the afterlife. The fact is, though, that everyone will spend eternity somewhere in the afterlife, either with God in perfect bliss or separated from Him in torment. That’s why the emphasis in “eternal life” should be placed on the word “life.” The idea is that the indwelling Holy Spirit has entered into the body of a person who was spiritually dead in trespasses and sins and brought that individual back to spiritual life.
The Bible’s most well known way of describing the Holy Spirit’s entrance into the believer’s body is to refer to the experience as “the baptism of the Holy Spirit” (John 1:33; 1 Corinthians 12:13). The first people to ever enjoy the blessing of this “baptism” were a group of Christ’s followers who were meeting for worship services in an upper room in Jerusalem in the days following Jesus’ resurrection and ascension to heaven. Just before Jesus ascended, He promised them they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from then (Acts 1:4-5). The fulfillment of that promise, as well as all the incredible events that accompanied it, is recorded in Acts 2:1-41.
Someone asks, “So, is Acts 2:1-41 indicative of every instance of someone experiencing the baptism of the Holy Spirit (getting born again)?” No, it isn’t. For example, those believers all began to speak in “tongues” (foreign languages they had never learned). That in turn created quite a stir in Jerusalem, so much so that Peter ended up preaching a powerful sermon there on the spot, a sermon after which approximately 3,000 people believed in Jesus and agreed to water baptism (Acts 2:14-41). No mention is made, however, of those 3,000 new believers speaking in foreign languages. The same holds true for the additional 2,000 new believers who placed saving belief in Jesus shortly afterward (Acts 4:4), the scores of others who did so even later (5:14; 6:1), the Ethiopian eunuch (8:26-39), Saul of Tarsus (9:1-19), Lydia and her household (Acts 16:11-15), the Philippian jailer and his household (16:25-34), the believers in Thessalonica (17:1-4), the believers in Berea (17:10-15), etc.
The fact is, the book of Acts is a transitional book that serves as the record of the early years of what we call “the church age.” Those years were filled with all kinds of uncommon stories and miraculous happenings, none of which have ever been commonplace and certainly aren’t today. For this reason, we must always be hesitant about building core doctrine around the stories from Acts. Romans is considered the New Testament’s greatest doctrinal book, and it devotes pretty much an entire chapter — chapter 8 — to the subject of Holy Spirit baptism. Significantly, though, the chapter never once mentions speaking in tongues as the evidence of the experience.
Someone else might ask, “But what about the saved believers from the Old Testament? Didn’t the Holy Spirit indwell them? Were they not born again?” The truth is that Holy Spirit baptism (the new birth) was not part of God’s work in the lives of those believers. Just as those believers lived in a pre-Jesus era, they also lived in a pre-Holy Spirit baptism/new birth era.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that those believers didn’t worship God and commune with Him in their own limited capacity. No one is saying that believers such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Samuel, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Daniel couldn’t worship God, commune with Him, fellowship with Him, and be in right relationship with Him. However, the idea of having Him literally dwell inside their bodies was something completely unknown to them. In God’s plan, such a thing just didn’t happen in those days. This leads us to conclude then that the worship and communion those believers enjoyed with God, as legitimate as it all was, was curtailed to a fair degree by the fact that the spirit part of their bodies remained defective. Unfortunately for those believers, that was one of the many spiritual disadvantages — along with not having a completed Bible, not having any churches, and not being able to look back upon Jesus’ death an an historical event — with which they had to live.
But now as I wrap up this post and this “Salvation” series, let me just ask you: Have you placed saving belief in Jesus and thereby been born again by the baptism of the indwelling Holy Spirit? Has the Holy Spirit taken up residence inside you and fixed your defective spirit? Since God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are one, has the indwelling Spirit changed your way of thinking, talking, dressing, conducting yourself, etc. and made them more pleasing to God? As 1 Corinthians 6:19 describes, has the Spirit transformed your body into His temple?
Friend, rest assured that these are not unimportant questions. The “born again” experience is nothing to take lightly, and if you doubt that you have had it, then you have every right to doubt that you have placed saving belief in Jesus and are on your way to heaven. Please understand that I’m not trying to cause you to doubt your salvation, but if I can cause you to doubt it by merely asking a few basic questions that come out of scripture, then you need to check up on whether or not you are authentically saved. That is the point I’m trying to get across to you, and it’s a point that I’ll leave between you and God. Always keep in mind, though, those emphatic words from Jesus: “You must be born again.” The man to whom He first spoke those words was Nicodemus, and all indications are that Nicodemus was part of that original group who experienced Holy Spirit baptism in Jerusalem. So, Nicodemus took Jesus’ words deathly seriously and brought his life in line with them. Now the question is, Will you do the same?