There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. — John 3:1–7
Modern-day Evangelicals are obsessed with this passage, insisting that everyone has to choose to be “born again” if they want to experience salvation. Unfortunately, just like Nicodemus, they have absolutely no idea what Jesus meant by the term. To get the obvious out of the way first, nobody can choose to be born a first time, and this second birth is no different since it happens not “of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”
But equally important to know, unless you’re an Israelite, you can’t be “born” a second time, because you haven’t been “born” a first time, at least not when it comes to the sort of “birth” that Jesus was talking about there. Remember, Jesus wasn’t talking about the same sort of salvation Paul primarily wrote about (in fact, throughout Paul’s epistles, he never even once spoke about a new birth; instead, he taught about a whole new creation altogether — or “a new creature,” as the KJV puts it — which is even better than being “born” a second time), but was referring to getting to live in the part of the kingdom of God that will exist for 1,000 years in Israel, so from that fact alone it should be obvious that this statement is only relevant to Israelites and not to Gentiles. But to make this even more clear, Jesus’ question (“Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?”) in response to Nicodemus thinking that any of this was about biological childbirth tells us that this Pharisee should have already known exactly what Jesus was talking about, based on the Scripture available to him at the time. This tells us that we have to look to the Hebrew Scriptures to determine exactly what Jesus meant (and we know there’s nothing in the Hebrew Scriptures about “asking Jesus into your heart,” as most Evangelicals explain being “born again” as meaning when they share their “gospel,” or really anything else they use to try to explain the meaning of being “born again” either, for that matter).
So what was it in the Hebrew Scriptures that Jesus was referring to here? Well, Jesus was talking about a nation that was figuratively said to have been “born” a first time by Moses in Exodus 4:22 when he said, “Thus saith the Lord, Israel is my son, even my firstborn” (along with similar statements he made in Numbers 11:12 and in Deuteronomy 32:18). That would be the first “birth” of those whom Jesus was referring to in this passage, telling us that it only applies to the nation of Israel. As for the second birth, this also has to be something spoken of in the Hebrew Scriptures if Nicodemus should have known this already as “a master of Israel,” so we have to look to passages that refer to Israel being born another time, and this would be Isaiah 66:8 which asks, “shall a nation be born at once?”, prophetically referring to something that will happen to the nation of Israel in the future. Simply put, Jesus was talking to Nicodemus about Israelites experiencing their New Covenant (which never applied to Gentiles, since we didn’t have an old covenant to be replaced with by a new one to begin with), and the rebirth of the favoured nation of God when they’re returned to their land and sprinkled “with clean water” (this is why Jesus said they need to be born not just of the Spirit, but also of water), which will take place at the end of the Tribulation, when Jesus returns and the thousand-year kingdom begins.
This is also why Jesus specifically said, “Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.” Unfortunately, people who aren’t using the King James Version are unlikely to be aware of this, because most other Bible versions don’t use the precise grammar in their translations of that passage the way the KJV does, but “ye” is a plural word, which means Jesus was simply saying: “Marvel not that I said unto thee [Nicodemus], Ye [the nation of Israel] must be born again.”
Now, it is true that Jesus said, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God,” and combined with the fact that they make the same mistake Nicodemus made in assuming the first “birth” was biological (which is what led him to ask his question about entering “the second time into his mother’s womb”), this has led Evangelicals to assume that individual Gentiles today have to choose to be “born again” or they won’t be able to go to heaven, but we already know that going to heaven is only for the body of Christ, so this can only be referring to getting to live in the part of the kingdom of God that will exist in Israel for 1,000 years rather than in the part of the kingdom of God that will be in heaven. Simply put, Jesus was just referring to the specific Israelites God chose to be a part of Israel’s second birth when it occurs (since Jesus didn’t specify that He was referring to or including the nations in this statement the way He did in Matthew 25:32, and because we know that His teachings were pretty much only relevant to Israelites — not to mention the fact that Gentiles weren’t “born” a first time in the manner that Jesus was referring to there, so there’s no way they could be “born” a second time as well — it should be pretty obvious that His statement should be understood as meaning: “Except a Jewish man be born again”), including a few who can be said to have (at least proleptically, if not literally) experienced the second birth earlier than the rest, such as those Peter wrote to in his first epistle (where he called back to prophecies about this from Exodus 19:6 and from Psalms 22:30–31). And even then, we know that an Israelite only needs to be “born again” to “see the kingdom of God” during the first thousand years of its existence on earth, since the Mosaic law (and hence the New Covenant) will be irrelevant after those thousand years have been completed, after heaven and earth have passed away, which means the “born again” figure of speech will no longer be relevant either. This tells us that Israelites who missed out on getting to enjoy life in the kingdom of heaven (which refers specifically to the part of the kingdom of God that will exist in Israel for 1,000 years) will finally have an opportunity to enter the kingdom of God on the New Earth (when it will be centred within the New Jerusalem).
So no, unless you’re a member of the Israel of God, you haven’t been “born again,” and neither can you be (since you weren’t “born” a first time in the manner Jesus was speaking about), nor do you need to be, since the salvation of those in the body of Christ won’t be enjoyed in the same part of the kingdom of God that Israel is looking forward to living in when it begins in earnest on the earth.
I realize that Evangelicals and other Christians have various ideas about what it means to be “born again,” but if their ideas can’t be shown to be laid out in the Hebrew Scriptures, they have no basis for the claims, because otherwise Jesus wouldn’t have criticized Nicodemus for not knowing what He meant by the term. And I’m sure you’ve heard “testimonies” by certain Christians about how they were “born again” and became a whole new person, walking away from a life they considered to be sinful thanks to God changing them when they “got saved” (and, in some cases, it’s true that they were leading particularly sinful lives, although it’s also true that most Christians misunderstand even more of the Bible than just the topics we’ve been discussing, and misinterpret large parts of it to be teaching that many things are sinful which actually aren’t sinful at all). And yes, God was indeed behind the change, at least from an absolute perspective, because God is behind absolutely everything that happens (since all is of God). But from a relative perspective, their changed lifestyles had nothing to do with being “born again” at all, since we know from what we just covered that being “born again” is only for the Israel of God (and that’s not to say the lives of Israelites who are “born again” won’t change drastically, but that’s because they’ll finally be able to keep the Mosaic law perfectly when it happens, which isn’t something Gentiles are meant to keep, and members of the body of Christ certainly aren’t, whether they’re Jewish or Gentile, which is another clue that being “born again” isn’t for us).
So when you hear a Christian’s “testimony” about how getting “born again” changed them, and are tempted to think it means you should remain a member of (or return to) the Christian religion (or to join it, if you’ve never been a member), remember that many people who have hit rock bottom have realized how destructive their lifestyles were and dramatically changed their lives for the better without becoming Christians at all (and that people who join other religions have similar “conversion experiences” to the ones Christians talk about as well), so joining this religion isn’t proof of anything. And if “fruit” is evidence of having believed the truth, just remember all the negative “fruit” of all those Christians you’ve met throughout your life (and even those who might seem to be living better lives now in some ways than they were before they converted all have “secret sins” they hide from the rest of us, so remember that you’re only seeing the “fruit” they’ve made public). As nearly everybody who hasn’t been blinded by the “light” of the leaders of the Christian religion knows, the fruit of Christianity is anything but good, so don’t be tempted to return to it if you’ve already been saved from it, or to give it a try if you’ve been blessed enough to never have been imprisoned by it (and if you’re still a member, get out as quickly as you can). Those of us who have escaped the Christian religion (as well as many of those who were wise or blessed enough to never join it) know very well that, while nearly everything Christians think is sinful actually isn’t, almost all of the actions and attitudes that they live by are extremely wrong (and often quite evil, all the while calling their actions and teachings righteous and good). As nearly everyone who looks in at it from the outside can see, greed, fear, paranoia, hunger for power, peer pressure, envy, hypocrisy, arrogance, prejudice, intolerance, anti-intellectualism, malice, spite, and all manner of other actual sins are the hallmarks of the Christian religion, but most Christians within the religion somehow just can’t see what is plainly evident to the rest of us. That said, where sin abounds, grace much more abounds, so even Christians can technically experience God’s grace (and eventually all of them will, of course). But as far as those who don’t embrace His grace go, I really wouldn’t want to be a religious leader or Christian “evangelist” at the final judgement, and those who willingly follow these leaders are in for a world of sorrow at that time as well (yes, it’s likely that most Christians will actually end up at the Great White Throne Judgement due to their believing a false “gospel”). If the citizens of the cities that rejected Jesus’ disciples are going to be judged more harshly than those of Sodom because they had the light revealed to them, how much more severely are those in Christendom who have the completed Scriptures going to be judged for ignoring, and even rejecting, the truths found therein, following the myths of their religious leaders instead, because they prefer to have their self-righteous ears scratched? (And for anyone who is wondering, yes, members of the body of Christ might have been called Christians at one time, and while this label does seem like it might have been used by members of the Israel of God, there’s no indication that any believers in the body of Christ used it for themselves, but rather it appears to be a label applied to them by others outside the body, and as such most of us avoid the label — so as to not be confused with those in the religion that uses the label today, which some of us suspect began with people such as Phygellus and Hermogenes and others who turned away from Paul creating the adulterated “gospel” of the Christian religion by merging parts of each of the two legitimate Gospels into one — and simply call ourselves members of the body of Christ, or sometimes just “believers.”)