It is interesting to note that there are just three men in the Scriptures who give to us this idea of being “born again.” Paul never touches on the idea in the way that John, James, and Peter do.
John, of course, in the third chapter of that gospel of his tells to us that men are born again, or rather “born from above,” which I think is a better rendition. Born again, true enough, but this time the source of their life is different. It’s not that their bodies are born, but their spirits get born. And the Lord Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Except a man be born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God,” speaking of the source of his life.
James uses a different word in the first chapter of his epistle. He says, “Of His own will, brought He us forth, by His Word,” and so forth. By His Word! Of His own will, He brought us forth. And Peter using still a different word speaks of being begotten again by great mercy.
John stresses the source of eternal life and the new birth. James stresses the result of it, that you are begotten again through the Word of God and by the will of God. It is the will of God which is James’ message. John says it is the life coming down into the soul from the heavens. James says here’s the life, in the soul, and worked out on the earth.
Peter says here’s the whole thing: coming down to me, from heaven, working out on earth, by great mercy and through the instrumentality of the Word. For as we read over in the twenty-second verse of this first chapter of First Peter, “Seeing ye have purified your souls,” and then the twenty-third verse, “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth forever.”
Now all three say that the Word of God is important in getting born again. But Peter sees this more clearly than any other. Why? Because the thing wherein the mercy of God was shown to him was in the words of Jesus Christ. The words of Jesus Christ in patience to Peter begot him again, in the resurrection, by the resurrection of the dead. So he says the mercy of God has begotten us again unto a living hope, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Peter also sees something else that the others don’t mention. It is this, that we’re begotten for a living hope.
John sees the life coming from heaven. James sees it wrought out on earth. Peter sees it as it has its end in the heavens. John its source in the heavens, James its working out on the earth, and Peter its end in the Heavens. So what we have in the three men is a past, a present, and a future perspective to this being born again.
John—born from above. James—born for the earth, to do the will of God. And here it is, laying it out, pleasing God, acting as though you knew the will of God. Living according to the law of God on the earth. Peter—unto a living hope, unto an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, that fadeth not away, reserved in the heavens for you.
Now, all three talk about being born again. They all use different words, but they mean the same thing. Paul, however, never used this concept except in another relation, for he said in the fourth chapter of First Corinthians, “I have begotten you through the Word,” through the gospel. It’s as though Paul himself were the father when he uses the idea of being born again.
Again in Galatians, the fourth chapter, Paul speaks of those little children for whom he is in travail until Christ be formed in them.
Interesting that the whole idea of the birth process is taken up by Christianity and made the greatest scheme of a man’s life. That a man can be born from above. That he could be born through the instrument of the Word of God, and through the will of God, and then through the witness of God, for that’s what Paul is—he is the witness of God, speaking it, and becomes by that, the father of those that believe, and then wrought out in the world of God.
~ from “JIM ELLIOT: A Christian Martyr Speaks to You, pgs. 62-64 (ISBN: 9781615797646)