"Born Again" - "Saved" - "Accepting the Lord"
We’ve all heard these expressions, and to many people, they are clichés associated with an over-the-top fringe of Christianity. But if you study the Bible, they are at the very heart of what it means to be a Christian.
One of the most familiar verses in the Bible is John 3:16. It is easy to forget the context of this verse, but it is very important because it explains what the terms above mean. The entire chapter makes it clear that believing in Jesus is important, but it also says that we must be "born again" to be "saved" from God’s judgment and to have eternal life.
A Jewish law expert (Pharisee) named Nicodemus, who was a very important man, came to see Jesus at night. He didn’t want anyone to see him. He was very conflicted about what he believed and who Jesus really was. He had seen Jesus perform miracles and he knew that Jesus was sent from God. However, like most Jews of his day, he was looking for a Messiah (leader and savior) who would overturn the Roman oppression and set his people free. He couldn’t yet make the connection that Jesus came to set ALL people free - from spiritual oppression and spiritual death - for all time.
Now 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 him, “Truly, truly, 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, “Truly, truly, 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 its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” -- John 3:1-8 (ESV)
Nicodemus still didn’t understand. So, Jesus explains:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. -- John 3:16-18 (ESV)
This passage explains two things. You must be born again in the Spirit and believe IN the Lord Jesus Christ to be saved. (or enter the kingdom of God). You need to do more than just believe intellectually that Jesus was a good and moral teacher, you need to invite him into your heart and be changed spiritually, or be "born again" in the Spirit.