What is spiritual rebirth?

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When someone accepts to belief in the God of the Bible, that person doesn’t immediately know the will of God nor is there willingness to do that. Still, this is however generally assumed. Regardless the facts from the past that contradict the latter assumption. It is the redemptive work of the Lord Jesus that makes it possible that a believer wants and is able to do God’s will from within. That is due to rebirth. What is written about that in the Bible?

Rebirth happens when a believer is born again as a new person (2 Cor 5:17; Ef 4:24), by which that believer is distinguished from others. In the Bible humans are grouped as unbelievers, believers and reborn believers. The non-reborn are called people in the flesh (1 Cor 3:3). The majority[1] of believers are not reborn[2].

Being born from God (rebirth) means that someone receives the Spirit of God within. A prerequisite to receive the Spirit is that one is dedicated (converted) to God. Then God will test the heart of that converted person for a while to measure the sincerity. Therefore, receiving the Spirit of God – rebirth – is according to the Bible a separate, later event (Acts 2:17; 19:2). Still, most Christian denominations assume that conversion and rebirth happen on the same moment[3]. But this is however contrary to the order of God’s creation[4].

Word study
The Greek word combination ana-genaoo is commonly translated as ‘rebirth’ and is mentioned twice in the Bible (1 Pe 1:3, 23). Other relevant Greek word combinations are paligenesia, which is also translated as ‘rebirth’[5] (Mt 19:28), and anakainoosis, which is often translated as ‘renewal’[6] (Tit 3:5).

Furthermore, geniti anooten is used which is often translated as ‘being born again’ (Jh 3:3, 7). Also, genenimenos ek tou Theou translated commonly as ‘being born from God’ (1 Jh 3:9; 5:18) is relevant. Then kata Theon ktistenta, mostly translated as ‘begotten by God’, and ton kainon antroopon ‘the new man’ (Ef 4:24).

It is remarkable that rebirth is not mentioned in the Old Testament. That explains why Israelites find it difficult to understand.

Fleshly people
All humans live ‘in the flesh’. That sounds logical, since man is originally created in a fleshly form. But in Biblical sense this fleshly form is incomplete and not meant to be so by God.

Fleshly humans in many ways act like animals[7]. They live most of all to satisfy their needs[8] and think that other people want to prevent that and can. The way animals also live. These fleshly people think that the order of life is a ‘trade relationship’. By giving someone else something, they can ask something else back. Again, animals seem to live in the same way.

Fleshly people can also very quickly switch from love over to hatred. Someone can come become loved, but the principle of hatred and animosity stays active. The impulse of survival and self-sustenance drives fleshly people. So, someone loved needs to continue doing what is expected. If that person however starts doing undesirable things and continues to do that, then that person will soon again be seen as an enemy.

Modern people seem to have unwritten rules of ‘what is expected of someone’ to be acceptable. These rules of good behavior are assumed to sustain the community and have a strong element of competition. Conquering and maintaining a place in society. In the animal world this is of vital importance.

People have deformed these rules of competition into rivalry. That confirms the continuous strife (the unrest) of paganism[9]. Also, individualism[10] is made into a component of religion. Especially in Protestantism. In this way the old pagan-religious thinking of destiny[11] is continued.

Fleshly people have in principle a negative view on life based on hatred[12]. It is also connected with jealousy and envy. The most serious form of this is revengefulness, which again leads to murder and homicide.

To sum up, fleshly people are under the control of satan, who has only one goal: rebellion against God (and against His will). A fleshly human is in fact dead[13] in the sight of God (Rm 8:8), although that person is alive.

Believing fleshly
Believers would sooner deny it then acknowledge it, but they have, regardless of their faith, the fleshly characteristics mentioned above[14]. Christians however claim, as followers of the Lord Jesus, that they are delivered from it. But alas. They also distinguish themselves rather poorly in the last two millennia from other believers[15].

Even more so, they have persecuted fellow Christians and have even sometimes killed them[16], especially when those fellow Christians pointed them at being fleshly, criticized them or shown them a better way (1 Cor 2:14; 12:31).

Fleshly believers are those who did not yet undergo the rebirth. But God doesn’t leave them over to themselves. He is directly involved with them and seeks ways to uphold them and help them in their state without being reborn. Since that state can in itself not sustain faith (Acts 5:39; Rm 8:8). That explains the constant decay in Christianity.

Other indications that the majority of Christians are fleshly: their great divisions[17], mutual strife, lack of Biblical love[18], hatred, jealousy, selfishness, mutual competition, errors, false doctrines, lust for power (politic dominance) and the increase in falling away from faith (Flp 3:19).

The conclusion has to be that Christians in large majority are fleshly (believers)[19] (Jh 7:19), despite the long time (almost two millennia) to learn the Way of God (Hb 5:12). That explains why they reject the Torah of God (Biblical commandments; Rm 8:7). If it were not so then Christianity wouldn’t be continually in such pitiful state. It lacks awareness that rebirth is vital.

Necessity of rebirth
Believers cannot be reborn by their own doing, but to make discipleship beneficial[20] it is required to be fulfilled by the Holy Spirit (Jh 3:7). Why is that? Rebirth means that after the physical birth from man also a spiritual birth from God exists (1 Cor 15:46).

When man was created God had given him the Holy Spirit[21]. Due to the violation of the command of God by the first humans, Adam and Eve (Gn 3:11), they became directly involved in the war between God and satan (3:15). Through their sin they came under the corruption of satan[22]. Because they and their offspring seemed unable to withstand that (4:7) and even chose to add to this corruption, the Spirit of God was eventually taken from them (6:3)[23].

Only sporadically or for a specific purpose some predetermined humans could receive the Holy Spirit (Ex 31:3; Jud 3:10; 6:34; 14:19; Is 61:1; Ezek 11:5). For example, Moses had received the Holy Spirit for his messianic ministry (Nm 11:17). But that didn’t make them however new humans. Since mankind was within the power of satan.

But a time was determined that God would again pour out His Spirit on His people, just as the prophet Joel had prophesied (Jo 2:28). This started[24] at the day of Pentecost following the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus (Acts 2:4). Through the reconciliation of Adam’s sin which the Lord Jesus acquired from God, the Father, believers can again receive the Spirit of God (Mc 1:8; 2 Cor 5:18). Rebirth became the most important requirement to sustain membership of the people of God and for partaking in the Kingdom of God (Jh 3:5).

Believing as reborn
How does it become clear that each believer (and not just the very pious) needs a separate rebirth? Moses wanted all of his fellow Israelites to be fulfilled by the Holy Spirit (Nm 11:29), despite that they had left Egypt based on trust in God. He understood the importance of that fulfillment.

Nicodemus, one of the most important teachers of Israel, also was a believer, but was however not reborn (Jh 3:10). Baptized disciples had not received the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5). Also, later disciples had to receive God’s Spirit separately (19:2).

The reborn believer will be guided by God’s Spirit from within, but is still in the ‘flesh’[25]. So, that believer will still have sin and will also stumble. Even more so, it is them that experience (internal and external) struggles in this world. The reborn are being hated more and more (Jh 15:18; 1 Jh 3:13) and they will abandon their own corrupt flesh more and more. The Holy Spirit guides and instructs them inwardly (2 Cor 4:16; Col 3:10), so they will grow in piousness, rightfulness[26] and holiness (2 Cor 3:18).

How to receive rebirth?
In the Bible no procedure or predefined act is required for rebirth, just as such doesn’t exist for conversion[27]. Rebirth can for example happen[28] after (persistent) personal prayer or when Spirit filled ministers of God have put their hands upon the believer (Acts 8:17)[29].

When a believer has undergone rebirth this will be confirmed[30]. Since it represents baptism with the fire of God (Lk 3:16). It is for example confirmed by demonstrating (special) spiritual gifts, like being able to live unmarried or having extraordinary insight in things about God. It will result in being fruitful for God, like spiritually begetting children of God through missionary work. These spiritual gifts and fruit are all in the service of God, His plan of salvation and His people.

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[1] This is something else then the identification of believers as progressive, moderately-orthodox and (ultra-)orthodox.
[2] These believers exercise their faith through tradition (they are religious), but are not led by the Spirit of God. The latter is impossible for them or only sporadically.
[3] Other denominations state that rebirth happens when someone is baptized in water (Mt 3:16). But history proves that both converted and baptized not fundamentally change to suggest that rebirth occurred. The water baptism however does demonstrate what the baptism with the Holy Spirit separately accomplishes; resurrection from spiritual death.
[4] Compare: After conception of a child follow some months until birth. In that period of development, it needs to become clear whether or not the conception was successful. So, there exists a conditional relation between conversion (spiritual conception) and rebirth.
[5] Often used to express the state after the resurrection from physical death.
[6] Used to express the new way of thinking and doing in which the will of God has the sole focus.
[7] These humans are formed in the Image and Likeness of God and thus are ‘above’ all other physical creatures. But because God is not known from within, they only follow their base impulses as physical creatures. These impulses are given to them by God, but satans power corrupts those impulses.
[8] Those needs can seemingly be ‘good’, like being socially active.
[9] A strife which is the consequence of a life that misses out on its original goal for which it was created. It’s a life without God seeking satisfaction in worldly things (self-satisfaction).
[10] This is an erroneous view on the rights of the individual person, which is viewed as an antipole for collectivism (an erroneous view on the rights of the group/community).
[11] In paganism this is seen in connection with spiritual powers, like damnation.
[12] This can even become self-hatred.
[13] Of no use.
[14] Faith cannot lift being fleshly. Only God can do that.
[15] Since there are false believers or believers that reason that the order of the flesh is more logical or useful that the order of the Spirit. Or the latter do not fully understand or know it.
[16] Also in figurative sense by shunning and ignoring and/or condemning them.
[17] The difference between fleshly and reborn believers is also used in a discriminatory way.
[18] Like intolerance towards those who believe differently.
[19] This goes against the assumption that each Christian has received the Holy Spirit.
[20] Only inhabitation of the Holy Spirit makes fleshly people alive (of use) to God (Jh 6:63) and allows them to take part in the eternal life with God in the world to come.
[21] The first human, Adam, was the physical son of God and thus divine.
[22] Their divineness decreased.
[23] This made man from then on mere ‘flesh’.
[24] The outpouring of God’s Spirit on the first disciples cannot be the full and definitive fulfillment of the announced outpouring as long as the collective of Israel isn’t part of the people of God.
[25] Rebirth places believers not outside or ‘above’ the reality of a corrupt creation under the power of satan. Rebirth is however the gateway to a glorified life in the new creation, but remains bound to the current reality. So, also reborn must grow.
[26] Believers need the inhabitation of the Spirit of God to realize the Covenantal life.
[27] Surprisingly no church or religious congregation is needed for it. It is a personal matter between God and the believer.
[28] The Holy Spirit is under the authority of God, the Father. Not under that of the Lord Jesus, Who namely also Himself, as High priest, is under the authority of God, the Father. Since the Spirit of God, after the ascension of the Lord Jesus, is dedicated to the physical creation, this Spirit also acts in His own way (Jh 3:8).
[29] Laying hands upon someone has however mostly to do with special gifts of the Spirit for a specific calling, like an office, in the service to God’s people.
[30] Rebirth is not a hidden happening, but its functions and consequences are hidden (irrational/mysterious) for fleshly people until the end of days.