What's it Mean to be Born Again?

by Feb 19, 2009

Many people believe they are born-again simply because they made some kind of profession of faith in Jesus at some point in their lives. John Piper’s latest book, Finally Alive (available for free as a PDF here), explains why those people might be dangerously mistaken:

The term born again has come to mean for many people merely that someone or something got a new lease on life. So a quick survey of the internet shows that Cisco Systems, the communications company, has been born again; and the Green Movement has been born again; the Davie Shipyard in Montreal has been born again; the west end in Boston has been born again; Kosher foods for Orthodox Jews have been born again, and so on.

So it’s not surprising that we have to be careful when we read that 45 percent of Americans say they have been religiously born again. The term born again is very precious and very crucial in the Bible. So our main concern is to know what God intends when the Bible uses this language, so that by his grace we may experience it and help others do the same. It is of enormous consequence that we know what being born again really means.

Citing recent studies by the Barna Group showing virtually no difference between the morality of “born-again Christians” and the rest of society, Piper shows how a more faithfully biblical perspective on the concept of regeneration changes everything:

I’m not saying their research is wrong. It appears to be appallingly right. I am not saying that the church is not as worldly as they say it is. I am saying that the writers of the New Testament think in exactly the opposite direction about being born again. Instead of moving from a profession of faith, to the label born again, to the worldliness of these so-called born again people, to the conclusion that the new birth does not radically change people, the New Testament moves in the other direction.

It moves from the absolute certainty that the new birth radically changes people, to the observation that many professing Christians are indeed (as the Barna Group says) not radically changed, to the conclusion that they are not born again. The New Testament, unlike the Barna Group, does not defile the new birth with the worldliness of unregenerate, professing Christians.