I came to faith in Jesus at age 43. In my youth and in adult life I never was exposed much to church or Born Again believers or the things of Jesus. A few minimal run-ins, a week or two at a bible camp in some dank church basement here or there and that's about it. As an adult in New England, which is rife with false religions and atheists, I never bumped elbows with "Jesus freaks" as they are known up there.
That said, there is a vocabulary associated with Christianity that a person hears at some point in their lives just from listening to news clips or seeing movies or television. "You have to be born again," or "He's saved" are examples. I never knew what they meant. I do now. I'll do my best to explain them.
According to the definition using scriptures at Christian Research and Apologetics Ministry, "Born Again" means "The term Born Again refers to new birth enjoyed by Christians upon conversion and regeneration. It is a work of the Holy Spirit within a believer. It is related to faith in Christ and Him crucified (John 3:3-5). It means that the person is no longer dead in sins (Eph. 2:1), no longer spiritually blind (1 Cor. 2:14), and is now a new creation in Christ Jesus (2 Cor. 5:17)."
Why do we need to have a new birth in Christ? Well, we're all sinners. Sinning means we all do, think, and say wrong things. No one likes to hear that they are born sinful. They say, "I've done nothing wrong. I am not a murderer. I'm not like Hitler! I live a good life. Babies aren't sinners!" But the fact is, we are born with a nature that is permeated with badness. If you ever saw a child willfully throw their peas to the floor you are witnessing sin. If you ever had a two year old throw a tantrum because they didn't get their way, you are witnessing sin.
This was brought home to me in this video. In it, a small child is shown to be throwing a tantrum. Now, most people think that children do this simply because they are too young to control their emotions and their internal desires get the better of them. And that is true! But the video also shows by example that children even as young as this one know what they are doing when they rebel. He has his tantrum only when his mother is in eye view, he cries only when his mother is in sight, and he repeatedly positions himself to rebel purposely and for maximum effect.
We have a sin nature. From birth.
Now, Jesus came to take the penalty for God's wrath for all this sin. He is Holy and the Judge. If we commit crimes against Him, he can't just let it go, can He? A judge in a court on earth would not do that. You do the crime, you pay.
Being born again happens when a person recognizes their sin nature, that they are a sinner, and that this sin is separating them from God. It is very, very, very hard to do this, because our sin blinds us to this fact. You might ask, if sin is so pervasive and blinds us to the degree of our own position before God, what hope is there to ever get out of it?
Jesus! And the Holy Spirit! And God! John 6:44 says, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day."
John 12:32: "And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself."
It's the Holy Spirit that brings understanding of our position before God as sinners, through the reading and hearing of God's Word, being burdened with thoughts and guilt of the bad things we do, hearing the Gospel and His free pardon to us. He enlightens us and reveals to us who Jesus really is and what He has done for all mankind. We may know about Him, as I did for 43 years, but we will not know Him and His lovingkindness toward us unless we first understand that we sin.
Once we are born again, a one-time event, He then sends the Spirit inside us to help us grow away from our sinful nature and become more Christlike. We will never be completely away from our sinful nature until we are in heaven. At that time the transformation process of cleansing sin from our literal body, begun at the new birth, is completed. He gives us a new body! No more sin! And we can finally be with Him, the Sinless and Holy One, in heaven.
It is really simple. We do bad things, and they aren't just murders and rapes and robberies, but even gossip and slander and lust in the heart or lust through the eyes is sin. Everyone who was ever born on earth is a sinner- except Jesus. So by definition no one on earth can go to heaven. Here is what Jesus said on the matter:
"The New Birth
There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him. Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?" Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus answered and said to Him, “How can these things be?”
"Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things? Most assuredly, I say to you, We speak what We know and testify what We have seen, and you do not receive Our witness. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. " (John 3:1-17).
That's kind of hard to understand, and impossible to understand if you are not a Chrisitan saved by Jesus. But essentially it means, we're born sinners, we won't go to heaven when we die, we'll go to hell. To save us from hell, Jesus died on the cross as the sacrifice required to pay the price of His wrath for sin. Jesus was resurrected on the third day and ascended to heaven. Anyone who believes this Gospel by faith will be born again. He sends the Spirit into you and the Spirit changes you from the inside out. You're a new creation! Born again!
Born a second time, from sinner to believer growing in Christlikeness. You're qualified for heaven, and will be with Jesus for all eternity instead of your default destination: hell.
Being born again is wonderful. I'm just sorry I wasted all the prior years, but Jesus' timing is perfect and His plans are accomplished right on schedule.