Many people use the term “born again.” The term is heavily utilized both by evangelicals and the news.
When Christians use the term “born again,” it is often shorthand for an evangelical Christian, as opposed to a Roman Catholic. However, many Christians use the term with little thought of their context and audience. Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus is illustrative and instructive for us.
When Jesus meets Nicodemus, he says to him that “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Jesus, in other words, tells Nicodemus: unless you are born again, you are not a Christian and will not go to heaven. To use another term, a “born-again” Christian is a “regenerated” Christian. To be born again means that you have been regenerated. But why don’t Christians say I am a “regenerated” Christian? Chances are that if you tell a person you are a “regenerated” Christian, many people will have no idea what you’re talking about. Yet, I also think the average person does not know what we are talking about when we use the term “born again.”
Most likely, then, the term “born again” will need to be explained. After all, Jesus himself had to explain the term to Nicodemus (see John 3:5-8). Why would we think a person today would not need a similar explanation, even those who are professing Christians?
Does this mean we should stop using the term “born again”? No. Then when should we use it? It depends on the context and our audience.
Just like with the usage of other biblical language, you must know your audience well. Jesus knew Nicodemus well—He knew his heart (John 2:24-25). Though we cannot know a person to the extent Jesus does, we would do well to consider our audience when using biblical language whether with a Roman Catholic colleague, a mainline protestant relative, a nonreligious neighbor, or a professing Christian friend. Biblical language must be used with a consideration of your context and audience.