Lesson Five – Theology of Being Born Again

Theology of Being Born Again

Introduction 

So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have.  I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me.  And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.  NIV  II Pet. 1:12-15

“These things” are what we, as disciples of Jesus, need to understand because the recipients of Peter’s letters understood them intellectually and spiritually.  They were grounded in these truths.  This meant their habits flowed from their faith.  Their individual faith was in the theologies, ethics and practices of which Peter refreshed their memories.  As it has been previously stated, one basic principle for reading a letter is “we need to know what the recipients knew.”  Peter mentioned several doctrines with no elaborations.  This leads us to believe the recipients knew about them and were grounded in the truth about the theological doctrines he used to make several ethical points.

They lived by faith in these teachings.  Since “faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen,” the theologies Peter introduced had added the spiritual kingdom of God to their physical habitats (KJV – Heb. 11:1).  Awareness of the spiritual realm along with their physical existence had formed their world views.  Peoples’ world view strongly influences the paradigms with which they view and evaluate routine encounters.  This was the reality in which they were “firmly established.”

We learned in the previous lessons Peter wrote both letters “as reminders to stimulate them to wholesome thinking” about “words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given to you by our Lord and Savior through the apostles.”  II Pet. 3:1, 2.  This declaration was inserted between two long discourses about the devil’s team of evil people they could expect to encounter.  We may assume Peter wrote to “prepare your (their) minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.”  I Pet. 1:13.  He closed the second letter with a statement supporting this hypothesis.  “Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position.”  II Pet. 3:17.

In this lesson we will consider the theological doctrine of the new birth.  Peter may have assumed the recipients were well informed; albeit, he did give space for some deep teachings.  See I Pet. 1:3, 18-23; 3:18-23.  He stimulated them to examine their faith in this divine experience that had already happened to them.  This would strengthen their faith and, in turn, strengthen their individual character.  We need to make sure we understand what they knew in order to properly understand how the “born again” doctrine strengthened them.  The strength they could derive from their “wholesome thinking” about their new births would help Peter accomplish his goal for writing his letters.  In the following lessons we will consider other doctrines, ethics and practices the recipient also knew.

An attempt will be made to present these doctrines in the simplest form possible and with minimum elaboration.  In other words, we will strive to let the inspired writers of the word of God speak to us.  The doctrines will be in the context Peter used them to strengthen the church.  In the previous lesson we considered the theology of Deity (Col. 2:9).  The recipients knew the role of each Person of Deity.  We need the same understanding they had in order to read these letters in their spiritual fullness.  God has embedded the laws of life for our spirits in these and other letters in the New Testament.  This is the manner He chose to reveal the information about how our spirits have been designed to develop as children of God.

Lesson

After presenting God, the Father, the Lord Jesus Christ and the sanctifying work of the Spirit, Peter called to the memory of the elect, their “new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”  NIV.  I Pet. 1:3.  The resurrection of Jesus has a functional part in this doctrine.  We will need to start our study by making sure we understand the words Peter used.  The following are other Bible translations from the Greek word “anagenna” found in verse three.  W. E. Vine defines it from two words, ana, again, or from above, gennao, to begat.  NASB – “Caused us to be born again into a living hope.”  KJV – “Begotten us again unto a living hope.”   Three of these four translations translated anagenna, “born again.”  The NAB used “rebirth.”  Peter added more insight into the phenomenon of an “old man being born again” in the first chapter of his first letter:

  • Christians have been purified by obeying the truth.
  • The word of God has the power of an “incorruptible seed” in the regeneration of a mature person being born again.
  • Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect, was chosen by God before the creation of the world.

In Jesus’ encounter with “a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council,” Jesus added the concept of “entering the kingdom of God” to the discussion of “born again.”  See John 3:1-8.  The Greek phrase in this text is “gennao anothen.”  It has been translated “born again” in the NIV, NASB and KJV.  The literal meaning is “born – gennao,  from above- anothen.”  The birth is not of “natural descent.”  It is from God.  We will not give space here to a full discussion about “sons of God” and the “kingdom of God;” however, some level of understanding of both theologies are necessary for those who are interested in being “begotten from above.”

We can understand how to think about the kingdom of God as it relates to mankind by a study of Jesus’ teachings while on earth.    He said, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to other towns also, because that is why I was sent.”  Luke 4:43.  One very key thought that relates to what Jesus proclaimed to Nicodemus is found in Luke 17:20, 21.  “The kingdom of God is within you.”  This is the result of accepting “God’s new covenant in Jesus blood.”  See Luke 22:14-20.  Note how Jesus connected the kingdom to the new covenant.

The “kingdom within you” can be understood by our own physical birth in a particular nation.  We are socialized into the society of the nation in which we were born.  We identify with the people and culture of this nation.  Identity is a part of who we are.  The culture of the country is in us.  For instance, the people in India proclaim “I am an Indian.”  Likewise, the life Jesus revealed about God’s kingdom to us is the way Christians now think, feel and behave.  This way of thinking, feeling and behaving is written on our hearts and minds.  It is our identity as sons of God (Rom. 8:16).  Peter described a major part of this sanctification process in II Pet. 1:5-9.  This is how Christians “may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world.”  II Pet. 1:4.  Then he went on to say, “For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”  II Pet. 1:11.  The concept of “a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom” and Christians being transferred to this same kingdom at the time we are born again need to be understood  in the beginning processes of the new birth (Col. 1:12, 13).

A new birth for mankind was announced by Jesus before it was offered by the apostles (I Cor. 15:3, 4; John 1:13; 3:3; Matt. 28:18-20).  This was necessary because the final process takes place through His death, burial and resurrection (Rom. 6:3-11).  God offered this doctrine through Jesus by grace (Eph. 2:6-9).  Sinners’ faith, the quality of faith revealed in obedience, activates what God will do for repentant sinners through Jesus Christ (Jas. 2:18-20; I Thess. I:8; I Cor. 8:6).

I.  The first process in a Christian’s new birth. 

Faith, the result of hearing and understanding God’s word, is the first process of being born again (Rom. 10:17).  People who have matured to the mental age of being aware they have chosen evil rather than good in certain life situations are in need of being born again (I Pet. 3:11).  The capability of awareness of good and evil in the minds of mankind is the result of being “in Adam.”  Gen. 3:22.  People condemn themselves when they do not choose to behave according to the “good list” they have recorded in the memory part of their minds.  When their consciences mature to a certain level of abstract thinking, they make judgment on themselves based on what they believe is good and evil (Rom. 2:15; Jas. 4:17).  The result is a guilty conscience.  Guilt on a person’s conscience robs them of their innocence; therefore, guilt robs sinners of a “living hope” of attaining glory (I Pet. 1:3).  God created mankind for His and their glory in a Father/son relationship; consequently, He created in all people a strong need for glory.  Innocence is a significant factor in peoples’ quest to attain satisfaction for their innate need for glory.

The question we need to clarify in order to properly use the word faith is this; “In what should a sinner have faith.”  A person’s faith becomes a power to move him or her to repentance and obedience.  It is not a mere religious word.  Righteousness powered by ones’ faith speaks from deep inside our hearts (Rom. 10:5-10).  Righteousness belongs in the category of behavior in this scripture.  See Jas. 1:22.  Paul did not present this teaching for a ritualistic statement to be uttered by a sinner before entering the waters of baptism.  The difference in believing in God and having faith in God is partially explained in Heb. 11:6.   Christians with faith believe God is and He rewards those people who put their trust in His will for us.  The devil believes God exists but does not trust Him for rewards.  People, who are in darkness about “what is life,” need to learn about God, the Creator, from their study of the Bible.  They cannot totally trust the people who have assumed the title of religious leaders.  Peter wrote his letters to prepare the church for the forthcoming of false teachers (II Pet. 2:1).  Much of what is called the “Christian religious world” has now subjected themselves to false teachers by allowing professional business people to study the Bible for them.

The knowledge of why and how God created mankind is the beginning path in a new birth.  This must be learned from a personal study of God’s word.  Christians may assist sinners in this study, but each candidate for a new birth must decide to “set apart Christ as Lord.”  I Pet. 3:15.  Next, sinners need to place their faith in Jesus as their teacher about life.  Their faith should not be in the teacher who may have assisted in their Bible study (Matt. 23:8-12).  The particular entity John presented about Jesus is: “In Him is life, and that life was the light of men.”  I John 1:3.  John then made the connection of one’s faith in Jesus as the “light of mankind’s life” to the concept of the new birth:

Yet to all who believed in Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.  NIV  John 1:12, 13

Believing in Jesus’ name meant they accepted “Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ.”  He was “the One coming,” the Christ prophets had spoken about throughout Jewish history (I Pet. 1:10-12; II Pet. 1:20; Acts 3:24-26; 4:8-11).  Therefore, the specific entity in John’s introductory of his Gospel in which human faith must form is “in Jesus Christ is life.”  A life measuring less than Jesus’ life is sin (I John 3:4).  He came to enlighten mankind about how our spirits properly develop into healthy happy new “selves.”   Christians develop into the “new selves” we have been created to be, God’s children (Eph 4:22-24; Matt.7:13, 14).   Philosophers have been pondering “what is life” without a workable “law of life” for ages; whereas, John put an end to our need to ponder with four words – “In Him is life.”  Therefore, the first “point of faith” for a person who desires to be born again; “Jesus is the description of how he or she has been created to develop.”  The life Jesus lived and taught is the answer to; “What is life.”  He is the description of the phenomenon of life.  In His life we find the laws of life (Rom. 8:1, 2; I Cor. 9:21; Gal. 6:2).  These are the laws in the new covenant (Heb. 10:16).

In John 1:12 we find another “point of faith” theology relating to a “new birth to a living hope.” One aspect of Christians’ living hope is the status of “sons of God.”  Luke 6:35.  We have been redeemed to receive back the status of “sons of God” we once enjoyed before we died spiritually (John 5:24; II Cor. 6:18).  All young immature people are children of God.  They enjoy life in God’s kingdom (Matt. 18:1-6; Luke 18:16, 17; Isa. 43:6; Ezek. 16:20-22).  The spirits of all people came from God.  In our original design we were in His likeness (Eccl. 12:7; Heb. 12:9; Jas. 3:9).  In modern technical language about computer hard drives, we might say we were “God-wired” with the potential to be God’s children.  People do not attain their capacity as a human being unless we become like God.  “Through Him (Jesus) you believe in God.” I Pet. 1:21.  After people grow to maturity in their minds and consciences, they all become prodigal children in Satan’s kingdom (I Pet. 2:25; Rom. 5:12).

Paul’s commission from Jesus was quoted by Luke in Acts 26:18.  Jesus said to Paul, “I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles.  I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God, so they may receive the forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.”  We are now discussing the “open their eyes” part of sinners who desire to be “sanctified.”  Developing a saint out of a sinner is the purpose of being born again (I Cor. 6:9-11).  For a sinner in the world realm, the result of being born again is the meaning of “being saved.”  Acts 2:47.

II.  The second process of a Christian’s new birth.  

Now we will discuss the process of “turning from darkness to light” in the new birth (Acts 26:18).  The “turning” must take place in the mind of the sinner before “times of refreshing may come from the Lord.”  Acts 3:19.  The change, or turning, in a sinner’s thoughts is a part of the definition of “repentance.”  The Greek word from which the word, repent, has been translated in Acts 17:30 is metanoeo.  It is the same Greek word in Acts 2:38; 3:19; 8:22 and 26:20.  Meta suggests a change and noeo connects this change to the mind; therefore, when we put it all together it means to have another mind.  The gospel of the kingdom is preached (Luke 4:43; Acts 20:25).  The message about this kingdom and mankind’s citizenship in it becomes his or her faith.  Faith in what is preached brings about a change in a sinner’s mind.  “Refreshing” from the Lord happens in the final process of the new birth, but it will not happen until the turning of the sinner’s mind from darkness to light begins to take place.  It happens in repentance.

We decide to accept God’s new covenant.  Please note three points in this covenant.  See Heb. 8:10-12. We have something to do and God has something He will do because Jesus Christ suffered crucifixion on the cross.  We open our hearts and minds to be impressed upon with the laws of life taught and lived by Jesus (John 1:3, 4).  We decide in our repentance we want to be God’s people forever; therefore, He accepts us as His people.  As we continually allow God’s laws of life to be written on our hearts and minds we come to “know the Lord.”  In fact, we will conform to the image of Jesus Christ as we move from “glory to glory” in our sanctification (II Cor. 3:18; II Thess. 2:13).  This happens because His life is the light of our lives (Rom. 8:29).  His life enlightens us about the law of life for our spirits.  They describe how our spirits have been designed to grow and be fruitful.  Finally, God will wipe all of our past sins from His mind; because we have faith He will do this very thing, our conscience is cleansed from guilt by the blood of Jesus (Heb.9:14).

John, the Baptist, was the forerunner of the Christ.  He went about “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”  Mark 1:4.  His message was for Israel.  They related to the Levitical Priesthood.  Faith in God’s covenant through this system gave the people forgiveness of sins.  “If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the law was given to the people), why was there still need for another priest to come – one on the order of Melchizedek, not on the order of Aaron?  Heb. 7:11.  This law was not the law of life; consequently, it needed to be changed because it was useless for developing sons of God (Heb. 7:12, 18).  The sacrifice of animals could not remove guilt from the conscience of a repentant sinner under the old covenant (Heb. 8:7; 10:1-3).  It was “a shadow of the good things to come – not the realities themselves.”  Still, John called upon the sinners to repent and prepare themselves to receive the kingdom of Christ and God’s new covenant.  We can clearly understand the details of repentance from John the Baptist’s preaching.

And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous – to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.  Luke 1:17

 John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, ‘You brood of vipers!  Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?  Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.’   Luke 3:7, 8

John’s definition of repentance for the Jews has not changed its meaning for us.  The fruit of their repentance was this:  The fathers’ hearts would include the welfare of their children and their just behavior would show they had submitted to the wisdom of God.  In this way they would have prepared themselves for the kingdom of Christ.  Repentance takes place in the heart about what we learned about God and Christ’s kingdom.  If nothing has been preached about the kingdom there can be no repentance – no turning to the kingdom life.  Repentance is a personal thing.  Sinners need to repent of choosing what they believe is evil.   They need to change their minds about what is preached to them about good and evil.  As Christians, we will continue to update our list of what we believe is good and evil according to God’s word.  How do Christians know we repented before being baptized?  John, the Baptist, said we would know it by our fruits.  If there is no change of mind and heart before a sinner is baptized; what happened in baptism may have only brought about “a removal of dirt from their bodies.”  I Pet. 3:21.

III.  The final process in a Christian’s new birth.

We will now examine the final process of a Christian’s new birth.  This is where sinners are finally freed from “the power of Satan,” but not his activities.  In his or her baptism, a faithful repentant sinner will have “crossed over from death to life.”  John 5:24.

Nicodemus was told “no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”  John 3:3.  Then he said.  “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of the water and the Spirit.  Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.”  John 3:5, 6.  Jesus had already clarified what He later told Nicodemus.  See John 1:12, 13.  All the new birth processes must happen in the minds and hearts of people in order for them to be transferred to the kingdom of God and Christ during their baptism.   Peter explains why:  “For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”  I Pet. 2:25.  When a person is raised out of the waters of baptism he or she has been rescued “from the dominion of darkness and brought into the kingdom of the Son He loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”  Col. 1:13, 14.

The sacrifice for the last process of lost sinners’ new birth had been “chosen (by God) before the creation of the world.”  I Pet 1:20.  Peter called to their remembrance; “the precious blood of Jesus, a lamb without blemish or defect.”  He shed His blood for God’s forgiveness of their past sins in baptism.  Faith in the blood of Jesus removes even the guilt of sin as a sinner is baptized in water (I Pet. 3:21, 22).  Since the new birth involves precise processes before baptism.  Peter added; “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but imperishable, through the living word of God.”  I Pet 1:23.

The Apostle Paul added the “new realm” theology in relation to baptism in Rom. 6:3.  Jesus spoke of the reality of “two realms” when Pilate asked Him, “Are you the king of the Jews.”  John 18:33.  Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.  If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews.  But now my kingdom is from another place.”  John 18:36.  Paul asked the saints in Rome, “Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?”  Jesus’ kingdom of children resides “in Christ.”  It is the other place; a heavenly place for heavenly people (Eph. 2:6; Heb. 9:23).  Satan has been allowed freedom for a period of time to do business in the other realm, the world (I Pet. 5:8; Rev. 20:7-10).

The way “into Christ Jesus” is by baptism in water.  While in the water, repentant sinners die with Christ, they are buried with Christ and they are raised up “in Christ,” never to die again.  Please carefully read Rom. 6:5-11.  The process of removing people from Satan’s kingdom to God’s kingdom requires a regeneration of a person who was in darkness about why God created him or her and what is life.  They must be born again – begotten by God.  Paul may have intended for his use of “baptized” in I Corinthians 12: 12, 13 to mean an immersion into the body of Christ.  This is the way he used “baptized” in I Cor. 10:2, as well as his first usage in Rom. 6:3.  Christians have been immersed “in Christ.”

Christians are identified as the called out – the church.  The church is a group people who were called of Satan’s kingdom to become members of the body of Christ (Eph. 1:22, 23).  The church is not the kingdom of God; however, our citizenship is in Christ’s kingdom (Phil. 3:20, 21; Col. 1:13, 14).  Jesus Christ has been given a kingdom by His Father in the sphere of God’s kingdom (I Cor. 8:6; I Cor. 15:24-28: I Tim. 2:3-6, 6:13-16; Heb. 1:8, 9, 13).

“Those who obey His commands live in Him, and He in them.  And this is how we know that He lives in us: We know it by the Spirit He gave us.”  I John 3:24.  We are “shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.”  I Pet. 1:5.  This speaks of the salvation in the context of a person who has been born again.  We “grow up in our salvation.” See I Pet. 1:8, 9; 2:2; 5:10.  This is a Christian’s “secure position.”  II Pet. 3:17.  We can lose our security; that is, die again spiritually, if we give up our faith and are overcome by our sins (II Pet. 2:20-22).

Questions for Discussion 

1.  Why is it necessary to have a good understanding of the processes of a Christian’s new birth before we can perceive the depths of Peter’s declaration in I Pet. 1:3?  What are some concepts we could add to our understanding of a new birth by reading Peter’s letters?

2.  Write a sentence that encompasses the meaning the words presented in this lesson to depict the scriptural meaning of a Christian’s new birth.  What is the significance of “again” attached to born?”  Who will God beget from above?

3.  Although Jesus taught Nicodemus about the basic concepts of a new birth; “Why was it impossible for Nicodemus to be born again?”

4.  Why should a sinner be taught about the relationship of a Christian to the kingdom of God as a point of faith?  Why should a sinner understand about Satan’s kingdom?

5.  What is the deference in believing in Jesus and having faith in Jesus?

6.  Why is it helpful to think of the new birth as a series of on-going processes?  What is the first process?  Describe this process from the standpoint of Philip’s responsibility in Acts 8:26-40.  Describe this process from the Ethiopian eunuch’s standpoint.

7.  Describe how faith becomes a power in a sinner.  What are the facts about Jesus a sinner needs to understand before he or she can have faith in Jesus?

8.  According to John, the Baptist, what is the evidence of a sinner’s repentance?

9.  Why is it reasonable to conclude that a sinner should fully understand and have faith in God’s new covenant for mankind before he or she can decide to repent?

10.  Why should a sinner be taught the Apostle Paul commission in Acts 26:18 before going into the water to be baptized?  How does an understanding of Paul’s commission help us understand the movement in Col. 1:13, 14 and John 5:24?  An understanding of the two realms is also important for a sinner to understand.

11.  How did Paul’s use of the word “baptize” in two different movements in Rom. 6:3 relate to the reality of the two realms God has made available to mankind by grace through Jesus Christ?

12.   After dying with Jesus in baptism and being resurrected to live sinners have been born again.  What does the blood of Jesus do for a faithful repentant sinner in baptism?  What does the blood of Jesus do for Christians after we have been born again according to I John 1:7?  Who will now come to fellowship Christians “in Christ?”  Why could He not fellowship people like Abraham and David before Jesus became our atoning sacrifice?

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