For most evangelical Christians, “born again” is an expression with which we are quite familiar. This metaphor was used by Jesus to communicate the essence of the phenomenal conversion believers experience when they are initiated into the Christian life.
Jesus was a master at using tangible things and real events of life to illuminate spiritual realities. He talked about planting seeds, watering plants, harvesting crops, tending sheep, going to banquets and many other activities of life to explain spiritual truths to His listeners (Matthew 13:34–35).Jesus was saying that when you are converted it will be a traumatic, life-changing experience—similar to being born physically. Click To Tweet
One of those remarkable metaphors was used in His conversation with Nicodemus (John 3:1–10). When Nicodemus asked, “What must I do to enter the kingdom?” Jesus said, “Ye must be born again!” Nicodemus was a concrete thinker and did not understand the metaphor. He was baffled by the incredulous idea of returning to his mother’s womb and being born a second time. Jesus said, “Ye must be born of the water and the Spirit.” Jesus was saying that when you are converted it will be a traumatic, life-changing experience—similar to being born physically.
The natural birth is such a dramatic event we celebrate our birthdays our entire lives. Birth is a traumatic experience for the mother and for the child. A newborn baby is physically transitioned from a watery world of darkness, solitude, and silence into a world of light, movement, and sounds. The event is so dramatic it must be terrifying for the baby! At the moment of birth, a baby’s lungs fill with air, it breathes its first breath of life, and the vocal cords cry out for the first time. No longer is the child tethered to its mother by an umbilical cord, but it is at that moment the newborn becomes an independent human being. It is climatic for the parents as well.
Jesus was telling Nicodemus that when one enters the kingdom of God, it is quite transformational. Before being born again, all human beings are fallen and in many ways separated from God’s presence (Ephesians 2:1–6). We are naturally propelled toward sinfulness and resist doing the right things (Proverbs 14:12). Our heart is in a state of rebellion against God. We all have a natural propensity to go our own way and make our own choices with a strong resistance toward being told what to do.
Our carnal drives and cravings lure us to commit sin. Our fallen nature dominates our life causing us to feel guilt and to be full of anxiety. A guilty conscious condemns us because of our failures, and we seek to rid ourselves of the unpleasant feeling. Some individuals try alcohol and other chemicals to escape reality. Some try making money and collecting achievements. Others attempt to surround themselves with friends and fans that make them feel better about themselves. It is all to no avail. The emptiness and discomfort prevail.
Pentecost Sunday: The Birthday of the Church
When Adam and Eve sinned, they fell from grace and afflicted their offspring with the same curse (Romans 3:23; 5:12). That Fall was epic and enormously damaging to the human race. God initiated a plan of redemption that took many years to complete—from Adam and Eve to the cross! The work of the Savior was climaxed on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit infused believers in the upper room (Acts 2). It was a watershed moment. This day was not only the birthday of the church, but believers were birthed as well.
“Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:38).
After the initial outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the upper room, Peter declared boldly to the assembled crowd: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:38). From that moment until this, that is the gospel message (I Corinthians 15:1–4). Obedience to that message will invoke the new birth experience. This spiritual birthing describes the believer’s transition from fallenness to becoming a new creature in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:1–7).
The seeker must confess their sin and declare their hopelessness to remedy their plight without God’s redemption (Acts 3:19; II Corinthians 7:10). Being baptized in water symbolizes burying the old man. Since Jesus was the propitiation for our sins and He was buried after the crucifixion, we must emulate His actions by this symbolic burial (Romans 6:1–6). Just as Jesus literally rose from the dead, believers are promised that same resurrection power spiritually. Being filled with the Holy Spirit is the climatic completion of our rebirth experience (II Corinthians 5:17). Just as babies gulps fresh air into their lungs and cry out, new birthed believers speak out supernaturally in other tongues (Acts 1:8; 2:8; 10:45–46; 19:6).
The question we must ask ourselves is this: “Does my conversion experience measure up to the new birth metaphor Jesus compared it with?” Some believers move through the process incrementally. Conversion can take time from believing the gospel, repenting, being baptized, and being filled with the Holy Spirit, but it can happen quickly. We must follow the New Testament’s example and its exhortations to repent, be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, and be filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). That same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead will quicken us at the great resurrection (Romans 8:11). “Be filled with the Spirit”(Ephesians 5:18)!
(A version of this article was published in Pentecostal Life.)
Gary D. Erickson is the director of Library Services at Urshan College and Urshan Graduate School of Theology.
Resources and Links
Conversion and the Baptism of the Holy Spirit – This hardback book is a scholarly tool for understanding and for teaching the church about the Acts 2:38 message.
Acts 2:38 by David Norris