“Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3 NASB).
Occasionally news will come from South Asia of the birth of a child to one of the Christian couples (often a preacher and his wife) there. Almost always that will be accompanied by a request for me (or Brenda and me) to name the new baby. That is always an honor, as well as a means of keeping me humble. To provide a new child with the name by which he or she will be known for the rest of their life is a significant responsibility.
Several years ago I got a similar request but in a different context. An older man who had been a Hindu for all of his life was baptized into Christ. He asked me during a devotional in his home that night to give him a name suitable for a Christian. He stated that up until that day he had prayed to idols every night in his house, but on this night he was praying (and we with him) to the true, living God. He no longer wanted to be known by his Hindu name. He was beginning a new life of faith and wanted to be known for that instead.
The new birth promised by Jesus is not just a catchy figure of speech. It is a spiritual reality which carries with it physical and spiritual implications. In his conversation with Nicodemus, related in John 3, Jesus continues,
“Unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:5-6).
Birth, whether spiritual or physical, conveys a variety of benefits. Among them are:
- Identity. One receives both a family name and, usually, a given name at or soon after birth. Those names connect to parents and preceding generations, but also establish the new child as a distinct individual. It is not insignificant that inspired writers point out the new names which pertain to those who are in Christ (Revelation 2:17). Because of the new birth every child of God wears the name “Christian”
- Membership within a unit (family). That name identifies the new child as a part of God’s family (Romans 8:16). He or she partakes of the divine nature from the heavenly Father (2 Peter 1:4), bestowed by the Spirit.
- Responsibility. Under both the Law of Moses and the Law of Christ, children are commanded to honor their parents (Exodus 20:12; Ephesians 6:1-3). Membership of any group includes obligations to that group and its other members. This is true of the Church which Jesus built (Acts 2:44-47; 4:32-35).
- Rights of inheritance. “And if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8: 17). Nations and cultures vary as to the rights of children to the property of their parents. God however declares all of his adopted children to be his heirs with the promise of being “glorified with him.” Peter describes our inheritance as “His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). Perhaps the most used phrase for what will be inherited is “Eternal life”.
- Continuity. Our physical ancestors’ genes continue through us and our descendants. Spiritually, through the new birth, we will receive immortality with God in a spiritual environment made for that purpose (2 Peter 3:13; John 14:1-6). The power of death is that of destruction – to bring to a complete and final end all of one’s existence. Jesus conquered death (Hebrews 2:14-15), granting immortality to those who become his disciples. Their lives will never end.