reprinted from the book, Refuting Jehovah's Witnesses

Born Again: What Does It Mean?

Biblical Overview

Nicodemus, a Pharisee, came to Jesus in the night to talk with him. The story is told in John chapter three. Nicodemus began by saying that his fellow Pharisees knew Jesus was from God, for no man could do what he did apart from God. Why, then, did Nicodemus come at night, seeking to avoid notice? Perhaps he was afraid of losing face among his peers, who were critical of Jesus. Jesus saw the emptiness in Nicodemus' heart and said to him, "Unless you are born again, you cannot see the kingdom of God" (verse 3). Nicodemus' responded by asking, "How can a man be born when he is old?" Jesus answered and elaborated on what he had just said, adding an element of mystery, saying that we must be born of water and the Spirit, and that the operation of the Spirit is incomprehensible to the natural man (v. 58).

What affect might this have had on Nicodemus? The Scriptures do not say, but it is not hard to imagine. Expecting to receive some profound truth, he instead received reproof for his lack of spiritual insight.

We can see this same kind of problem in the lives of Jesus' disciples, before the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost. They were actually incapable of understanding the deeper sayings of Jesus, unless the Spirit revealed the meaning to them (Luke 24:25; Matt. 16:17). The problem was not a lack of knowledge, even of what the Bible said; the problem was that they were naturally incapable of knowing the mind of the Spirit (1 Cor. 2:11). They continually misconstrued or balked at what Jesus said (Matt. 16:611,23; John 6:60-65). Only after Pentecost and the outpouring of the Spirit did the words and prophecies of Jesus become clear to them (Acts 2:14-36).

Paul explains this more clearly in 1 Cor. 2:6. He speaks of a kind of wisdom that is hidden from the unregenerate, and continues,

For to us God revealed [this wisdom] through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man, which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. (v. 10-14)

Paul therefore adds more to our understanding of the new birth, or the born again experience. The Spirit, he implies, has a mind of His own, unreachable by the natural man, no matter how intelligent. Jesus, in fact, had said that the things of God would be revealed to the more simple people of the world, rather than the wise (Matt. 11:25). Only by having the Spirit actually dwelling IN you, operating on your own spirit, can you know the mind of the Spirit. Paul said that outsiders would view this as foolishness.

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul makes other statements that support this new nature and the indwelling presence of the Spirit as a reality. He speaks of the believer's being "sealed in Him with the Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance" (Eph. 1:13,14). Paul requests of God that the Ephesians would be "strengthened with the power through [the] Spirit in the inner man; so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith" (Eph. 3:16,17). He admonishes believers to "lay aside the old self . . . and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth" (Eph. 4:22-24).

In his letter to the Colossians, Paul says that they have "laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him" (Col. 3:9,10).

HOW DO WE ACCEPT CHRIST AND RECEIVE THE HOLY SPIRIT?

It would be easy to counsel a person on how to be born again if it was simply a matter of following outlined steps to take in order to receive this new birth. Man, however, is not capable of initiating this process - it must be of God. All man can do is to pray and ask God for forgiveness and regeneration. God responds out of mercy, not from obligation. Recognizing our total helplessness and need for this life of Christ is therefore a preliminary to God's act of regeneration on us.

We plead to God for help, and God responds by giving us an acute awareness of our personal sins against him. It is absolutely necessary that we understand the gravity of our personal sins, and only the Spirit can reveal this; for the natural man has a warped view of sin. The Spirit reveals this to us, we ask forgiveness, and he releases this burden from us and replaces the emptiness of our souls with his presence. J.I. Packer, in his essay on "Regeneration" in The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology comments on this work of God:

Infants do not induce, or cooperate in, their own procreation and birth; no more can those who are "dead in trespasses and sins" prompt the quickening operation of God's Spirit within them (see Eph. 2:1-10). Spiritual vivification is a free, and to man mysterious, exercise of divine power (John 3:8), not explicable in terms of the combination or cultivation of existing human resources (John 3:6), not caused or induced by any human efforts (John 1:12-13) or merits (Titus 3:37), and not, therefore, to be equated with, or attributed to, any of the experiences, decisions, and acts to which it gives rise and by which it may be known to have taken place. (p. 925)

While some would argue the role of one's free will and how it fits into regeneration, at least we can say it is not a result of any of our works or efforts.

THE WORK OF THE SPIRIT

Reading Jesus' words in the fourteenth chapter of John is helpful in understanding the work of the Spirit in the believer. Jesus begins by helping them to believe right things about him, then reveals a little of the mystery of the indwelling of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit:

Verse 1: He starts out by saying that we must not only believe in the Father, but that we must believe in HIM.

Verse 2,3: He gives us a hope to live with him someday; true Christians would be entertaining such a hope. If you read about Jesus and what he did for us and really come to love him, there is surely something wrong if you don't want to be with him forever!

Verse 6,7: We must see Jesus as the only way to God, the only source of truth, and the only one who grants life everlasting. We must see Jesus as a perfect and complete image of the Father (John 1:1; Col. 2:9; Heb. 1:3), not as an angel or created being with a lesser nature.

Verses 9-11: Jesus is one with the Father; each is fully and intimately known by the other. The Son has taken on human nature in addition to Deity, yet allowed the Father to work and speak through his human nature.

Verses 1316a: All that we can receive is now accomplished through Jesus' name and authority. We can't earn it or work for it.

Verses 16b,17: The Father then sends the Person of the Spirit to indwell us, to speak for Jesus, and to walk with us. Jesus says that non-Christians cannot conceive of our being indwelt by the Spirit (though they sometimes believe in an ambiguous "force" or energy that they call the "spirit").

Verse 20: We soon come to know (in a personal sense) the communion of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit within the new man or the new nature. Awareness of this supernatural condition may not occur immediately upon asking Christ into our life, especially since it is not an experience validated by our five senses. Our reborn spirit has an awareness of its own (kind of like gaining a new sense or type of experience - since you aren't used to it, it takes time to develop an awareness of it).

Verses 21-23: If we seek to follow Christ we obviously love him, and both Father and Son love us, and disclose more of themselves to us. Both the Father and the Son (and the Spirit - verse 17) now live in us. Obedience to what we have been shown will determine the degree of this disclosure.

Verse 26: The now-indwelling Holy Spirit will teach us all of these things, and cause us to understand the Scriptures we have read many times before, but never fully grasped.

Verse 27: We now receive a new kind of peace; a true, deep, abiding peace that doesn't leave. It is not peace in the worldly sense, such as the kind that comes from material possessions, conjugal security or success. Nor does it prevent the pain of normal trials. It is more like an awareness that someone is always there, always walking alongside of you and willing to help. The presence of the Spirit brings us the comfort that we are always in God's care, no matter what may happen.

We know that Jesus died for our sins. It was necessary that our sins be forgiven, but it was also necessary for God to work alongside us from the moment of salvation onward. This is called sanctification. God does not just desire to redeem us and to justify us in our standing before him (called justification), but to build us into a living organism for his praise. However, since we are totally incapable of getting there in the flesh, God has us die to our flesh. We soon realize that our flesh - our natural man is hopelessly incapable of doing anything of real value in God's eyes, so God creates a new nature - the new man - inside of us. That new person is joined by the person of the Spirit. We are in effect "possessed" by the Spirit of God and given new life and power. This is what it means to be born again. A person who is born again soon realizes that he is possessed by the Spirit of Christ and has a new nature, which thinks and responds much differently than the old nature. Yet, the desires of the flesh don't disappear. (That is why some people think Christians are either hypocrites or they have a split personality - because sooner or later they will see both the flesh and the Spirit at work in their lives!)

When we were of the world we had a fallen nature. When we are born again, we become a new creation with new desires, yet the old desires still tug at our flesh. We can choose to walk in the Spirit, or to follow the flesh. Choosing the flesh leads to spiritual death; choosing the Spirit leads to life and peace, no matter how bad your outward circumstances are. In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul reveals that the "old man" is to be seen as dead, in order that we might walk in the life of the Spirit (Rom. 6:4). For the old nature to be "dead" means that we are no longer a slave to sin, and we are freed from its power (6:6-14). The new man, Paul says, does not serve God in terms of rules, but serves from the spirit within him, which is joined to the Spirit of God. Only this indwelling Spirit can empower the believer to "walk in the Spirit" (7:6).

Even in the midst of battles between the flesh and Spirit the Christian can be freed of guilt and condemnation. He is set free from the whole "legal" process of sin and guilt (Rom. 8:1,2). It is simply a matter of getting our minds off of the flesh and thinking in the Spirit; thinking of spiritual things, and allowing one's heart to revert back to the things of the Spirit. This is the ONLY WAY to conquer the flesh, Paul says, for we as fallen humans have no power to stop its influence - we must get back into the Spirit immediately (Rom. 8:13; Gal. 5:16). We must seek that communion with the Spirit who dwells in us. Because we have been adopted by grace into God's family, we will not lose our standing in the family by disobedience, any more than a child can, by disobedience, be disowned by a loving parent (they are disciplined instead!). Rather than wallowing in guilt and condemnation as some sort of penance for our sin, we are to snap back into communion with the indwelling Spirit of Christ, leaving the justifying to him (Rom. 8:15-17).

Since the Spirit lives in us, he can intercede with the Father for us when we are at a loss to know what we should say to God. This usually happens during trials, when we don't know what is happening, and feel caught in a vise with no way out (Rom. 8:26,27). We can take delight in that since God loves us enough to live in us and through us in such a marvelous way, he will cause both our good decisions and our mistakes to work for our best possible good, though he may not necessarily remove the results of our sins (Rom. 8:28; Gal. 6:7). What wonderful security! No one can condemn us to eternal judgment, and no one can ever separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord! (Rom. 8:35-39) He is always present with the believer, along with the Father and the Spirit (John 14:17,23).

A Supreme Act of God is consummated in the Creator Himself living in and working through us. What greater joy could man hope for! Not only is this a future hope, but it can be a present reality.

Refuting Jehovah's Witnesses

Mental barriers preventing JWs from being born again:

FEAR

. . . that they are committing idolatry by asking Jesus into their hearts. "Isn't Jesus a created being?" "How can I worship or talk to an angel?" "How could I ask one into my heart?" "Do I want to be possessed by a demon masquerading as Jesus?"

. . . that "born-agains" are demon possessed, since some churchgoers are quite demonstrative of their happiness and joy, or their zeal; something totally foreign to the WT mentality. Witnesses will sometimes attribute such joy or zeal to "demons."

. . . that it is all a big deception, and they will be deceived. "What if I get in ANOTHER religion that turns out to be false later - then I'll really be a basket case!"

CONFUSION

. . . about what it means to be born again. "Is it an emotional experience?" "Is it a farce?" "Is it only for 144,000?" "Am I not presumptuous to desire this?" "Is it a level of understanding that you eventually reach?"

. . . as to why God does not make the whole thing a little clearer. "Why doesn't God just spell out exactly what he wants me to do?" "Why does it have to be so hard?" "Why can't I just study and arrive at it by understanding?"

MISINFORMATION

. . . about the identity of the Holy Spirit. "The Watchtower says the Spirit is just a force; God's energy. Am I asking for an energy? What if I ask for the Spirit and get a demon?"

. . . about what the Holy Spirit does. "What will he do for me?" "Will I lose my desire to live on the earth?" "What if I don't want to go to heaven?" "Will he make me do things against my will?" "Will I have a will of my own?"

SELF-WILL

. . . in wanting complete control over your life with no uncertainties. "It is too scary to surrender my will to someone else. I have to know what is happening." "I can't deal with situations where I am not in full control."

. . . in insisting to know everything before you `take the leap'. "I can't make a decision such as this without knowing everything about it. How can you expect me to take such a blind leap?"

The JW or ex-JW must come to realize that he is not joining a religion by being born again, but is asking Jesus to come in and change his life:

Come to Me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My load is light. (Matt. 11:28-30)

THE WATCHTOWER VIEW OF BEING BORN AGAIN

According to the Feb. 1, 1982 Watchtower (pages 25-29), there are six primary steps that one must take before he can be "born again." First, they say, one must take in "accurate knowledge," a mistranslation of John 17:3 (which actually speaks of KNOWING God in a personal, intimate sense, as a husband knows his wife). They have retranslated it to mean learning by means of study.

The second step is to "exercise faith," which is explained as belief plus works. The third is repentance from bad works, and the fourth is conversion. This is interpreted simply as doing "works that befit repentance." The fifth step is dedication to Jehovah, which, according to The Watchtower of June 1, 1985 (p. 30), implies dedication to the WT organization. In fact, of the two questions now asked of those about to be baptized, one is regarding their loyalty to the organization. Finally, baptism is the sixth step; the outward sign of their dedication.

Just following these six steps does not guarantee the Witness that he will be born again, however. It just puts you in line to be born again. The catch is that only 144,000 can be born again and fully "declared righteous"! (Being declared righteous gives them a different standing than the rest in the organization.) Since that number of 144,000 was supposedly filled in 1935, most all will not be "born again" in the organization today (they claim there are only about 9,000 left of these "anointed ones").

These six steps are explained as man's part in salvation. God's part is explained as the 144,000 being given a "heavenly hope," and declaring them righteous. There is no mention of the indwelling Spirit acting as Comforter or teacher (John 14:16,17,26,27; 1 John 2:27), or that the Father and the Son live in the believer (John 14:23).

The blasphemy of claiming that only 144,000 can be born again is clear when we realize that Jesus said "You must be born again," and "Unless you are born again, you cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3,5,7). Paul says that Christ is the Mediator between God and man, having died for ALL men (1 Tim. 2:36). There are no class distinctions in Christ (i.e., one "anointed," one not - Gal. 3:26-29), there are not two "hopes" (Eph. 4:4,5) and being declared righteous is "for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift. . . ." (Rom. 3:22-24). Better to heed the Word of God than the WT!

In actual practice, these six steps are not fundamentally different than what is required by any manmade religion. They are basically advocating that (1) one learn their doctrines, (2) recognize that one's thinking and actions are wrong, (3) work to "right" the wrongs, and (4) publicly tell others what you have done. There is nothing supernatural about it. Rather than receiving the Comforter (the Holy Spirit) as a Person who indwells, comforts and teaches the believer above and beyond his understanding or abilities, Witnesses are simply altering their thought patterns and changing their lifestyle. This has good outward effects and immediate rewards, yet is not a work of God, but a work of men. Many organizations, including non-religious groups, are well able to radically alter their lifestyle. All that is needed is some rules and the motivation!

It is possible to meet all of these requirements and not know Christ at all. When Jesus spoke to the Pharisees, he said,

You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that bear witness of Me; yet you are unwilling to come to Me, that you may have life. (John 5:39,40)

The Pharisees believed in study and obedience to Law. But Jesus said that was not enough. They had to come to Him as the giver of life, recognizing that they were at his total mercy if they were to receive an ounce of salvation.

In contrast, The Watchtower of Jan. 15, 1985 said about Jehovah's Witnesses, "Appreciating what they learn, they work to remake their personalities in God's image" (p. 18). The Feb. 1, 1985 issue, page 5 states, "God has arranged for the `good news of the kingdom' to be proclaimed so that each individual will have opportunity to work out his own salvation."

Christianity, however, is not a religion of rules, and one's motivation comes from the Holy Spirit indwelling the believer, rather than through any kind of self-motivation or earthly hopes.

Only by the indwelling Spirit of Christ can we do God's work. It is Christ in us who works out our salvation, from beginning to end!


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