He came to Jesus at night and said, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him." Jesus replied, "Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again." (John 3:2-3)
Who is Jesus speaking with?Here Jesus is sitting with a Pharisee named Nicodemus, who was a member of the institutional temple ruling council. Nicodemus accepted that Jesus was God's messenger.
Nicodemus was a Pharisee and accepted Jesus as God's representative. Jesus did not correct him or deny this. By not denying the Pharisee, it is logical to assume that Jesus indeed saw himself as ‘a teacher coming from God.’
What does 'born again' mean?Jesus is describing to the Pharisee that in order to see God’s kingdom we must be “born again.” But the primary definition of the Greek word translated to "again" is ἄνωθεν (anōthen). And this also means "from above" according to the lexicon. This means the term can also be translated to “born from above.” This actually provides a deeper meaning to Jesus’ statement.
This is confirmed by his next statement about being born again.
Why? Because Jesus was not talking about the human body being born again. The kind of rebirth Jesus is speaking of is to have a spiritual change of heart.
What is a change of heart?In Jesus' context, a spiritual change of heart means to begin giving up our self-centeredness in lieu of beginning our path towards loving and serving the Supreme Being. This was Jesus' central message.
While we can make such a decision at any time, this spiritual rebirth does not usually happen instantly. Rather, it starts with a commitment to change. Once we make a commitment to change, we have begun to travel the path towards renewing our loving relationship with God.
Proclaiming to others that we "accept Jesus as our savior" as is the custom in many of today's sectarian institutions, is not the spiritual rebirth Jesus is describing. This "I accept Jesus" or "I'm born again" proclamation only brings attention to ourselves. It is an attempt to gain the acceptance of others.
Did Jesus teach this?Jesus spoke specifically to this, "I accept Jesus as my savior" doctrine:
“Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father Who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21)Crying out in front of others, or a crowd of parishioners that we are "born again" and that "Jesus is my savior" should be considered equivalent to the saying of "Lord, Lord" in Jesus' statement in Matt. 7:21.
Jesus' teachings were meant to bring attention to God. He was trying to teach us to love God and love others. He didn't allow himself to be crucified so that we could proudly brag about how religious we are. He didn't go through all that pain in order for us to use him to dust off our sins so we could go back and do some more.
Jesus' life was about encouraging us to give of ourselves. To become servants of God and others. He wanted us to change our hearts from self-serving to God-serving: From loving ourselves to loving others.
We can tell by Jesus' statements is he wants us to serve and please God. "He who does the will of my Father" means acting in a way that is pleasing to God. A person who is focused on serving and pleasing God is not so interested in making proclamations about themselves.
Being saved, in fact, is of little concern to one who loves and works to please God. A loving servant of God has little care about being "saved." Their central desire is to please God now and in the future.
Developing this attitude takes work. It takes commitment and discipline. It also takes putting oneself at the feet of the Supreme Being:
We need God's help in order to change and grow spiritually. We do not have the strength to change alone. We must rely upon God's help. At the point where we lay at God's feet, God will help to change us from within.