What exactly is “born again?” (Pt. 2)

In the previous article about Jesus’ use of parallelism, we noted a particular instance of it in John 3:3,5. Our purpose in this article is to understand what that phrase, “born again” actually means.

The phrases “born again” and “born of water and the spirit” are parallels; they refer to the same thing. One includes the cause (of water and Spirit), the other is the effect (born again). The chart below shows the parallels and how they relate to each other. The result is in the far right column:

Born Again (1)

At this point, the parallel is clear, but the meaning is still unclear.

  • It is birth, but not childbirth.
  • It involves water, but it also involves the Holy Spirit.
  • It results in a person seeing, or entering the kingdom of the Lord.

But the meaning is lacking. How or when does this new birth happen?

We now must add parallel texts to our study – texts that appear to deal with the same subject matter. For example, notice when we add parallel phrases from Ephesians 5:25-26 to the chart:

Born again (2)

At first it seems that “water” is the only parallel, but when we consider that the sword of the Spirit is the word of God (Ephesians 6:17), we see yet another use of parallelism, and realize we are likely getting closer to the meaning of the text. Look also in the last column on the right, to the words “kingdom” and “church.” It is likely these are parallels as well. More on that in a moment.

Let’s add another passage to the chart, 1 Corinthians 12:13:

Born again (3)

Again, we see the word Spirit in the left column, indicating to us the Person involved.

Also, in the middle column, we see a new word: “baptized.” Now, all the parallel terminologies – born again/of water and Spirit, washing of water/ born of water, etc. – have a single word to around which they revolve: baptism.

Finally, look in the last column at the terms: kingdom, church, and body. We know from passages like Ephesians 1:22-23 that church and body are interchangeable. They are parallel. We know from Matthew 16:18-19 that church and kingdom are interchangeable. They are parallels – different words used to describe the same thing.

There are actually many other parallel passages that can be put into this chart. For the sake of space, we won’t list them all, but here is another to consider:

born again (8)

In the first column, there is more parallel terminology in the phrase “faith in God.” When we understand “faith” comes through the Word of God (Romans 10:17), which is the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17), we realize that all these passages say essentially the same thing, from different perspectives. They all describe the process of faith, or belief.

In the middle column, baptism is mentioned again, and even its mode is highlighted: burial. In the right column, we see “risen with him [Christ].” In Romans 6:4 this is called “newness of life.” Being raised with Christ, a new life, is another way of saying we are citizens of Christ’s kingdom, members of His body, the church.

Some final thoughts:

  1. Every single act of conversion recorded under the covenant of Christ has these features in common as well. There is not one deviation.
  2. These passages  would supply other parallel terminology, particularly for the far right columns above, words like forgiveness, remission of sins, washing away sins, and such like, showing that entering the kingdom/body/church and forgiveness/remission of sins, happens in conjunction with our baptism.
  3. As was mentioned in the previous article, there are other elements to conversion not listed here (grace, repentance, confession, love, etc.). But being “born again” encompasses them all.
  4. Most importantly, my purpose was to demonstrate through these parallel terms and passages, that Jesus meant to include baptism as a very part of being born again – in fact, it is the culminating act of the whole process – not something that happens after the fact.

One cannot see/enter the kingdom/church/body without being buried and raised with him in the washing of water through the Word.

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A graduate of West Virginia School of Preaching (2004), Rick has been in full-time ministry since then serving the church in Prestonsburg, KY (2004-2014), and Massillon, OH (2014-present). He enjoys spending time with his wife, Samantha, their six children, and enjoys writing, playing and writing music, a good cup of coffee and a hot wood stove. He hates shoveling snow and plans to buy a snow blower soon.

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