My name is Izzy and I’ve been born twice in one lifetime.

“Wait...what? Born twice? What are you talking about?” Those were my thoughts about two months ago...

I know there will be a variety of people that will be reading this. I intend to touch on life and death and something as important as those. My goal is to engage anyone from the nihilist to the yolo-er, as well as the church member who has a one-hundred percent attendance record.

I’ve been a Christian for four-ish years now. I’ve heard it said recently that we do theology (understanding God) from our biographies. Meaning that we try to grasp or understand God from our own lives and experiences. That greatly limits our understanding. It creates a disorder where nothing or everything seems credible about God. I’ve done that to some degree before and during this 4 years. Two months ago I learned that I had an immense amount more to learn about God.

I grew up a Muslim in an abusive home, homeless at times, lived in many places of the world, been kidnapped and separated from from my mother for 13 years now, lived like a gangster (it’s hard to believe...I know), lived like a prince of Arabia, been “the popular guy”, been the outcast, danced with death a couple of times, lived extremely hedonistically and then finally became a Christian at a small church in Austin, Texas (Shout out to Milwood Baptist Church!). Talk about worldview or theology... If I were to try to discern or understand God through my life I wouldn’t know where to begin or what to think. I think that’s the case when it comes to most of us. So I go to the one place that showcases God’s nature explicitly: The Bible.

Being a Christian for the last four years I thought I knew everything there was to know about the Bible. I couldn’t have been more wrong. And I am reminded of that often when spending some time reading it. Recently I’ve felt God call me to be a pastor. So I thought that having submitted to that call I’d receive divine revelation on everything the Bible says. Yikes. Double wrong. However, God has been crushing, reproving, humbling, correcting, building up, and teaching me through His Word unlike ever before. It leaves me weeping, in sheer awe and desiring more.

That is what happened two months ago.

I was preparing the message for the youth group which was coming from 1 John 5:1-5. This is what it says:

[1] Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. [2] By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. [3] For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. [4] For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. [5] Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

I was doing what I usually do. Praying for wisdom, studying, and trying to understand.

“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God...”

Then it hit me like a train. For some reason I kept reading it as, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ will be born of God...” Interpreting it that way tells me that my own will is what births me. “When I choose to believe in Jesus...then I’ll be born of God.” That has a lot if issues. If that’s the case, then I am my own savior, I can lose my salvation and Jesus loves me because I was the one who chose him. That flew in the face of what I’ve been taught about God’s grace.

I was so overwhelmed in what it really said and what I thought it said that I immediately ran to Nathan’s office (our Senior Pastor), slammed my Bible on his desk and bombarded him with a ton of half-coherent sentences. I discussed with him for a solid 45 minutes about what exactly being born of God meant. I came out with a greater understanding of what was at stake.

This is where the “born again” fun begins.

All of 1 John is about discerning between two things. Real and not real. He does this by describing real believers and not real believers, true and false teachers, real love and unreal love. Further, he differentiates between these by whether or not people are and are not born of God. That’s seen in 1 John 5:1-5 a little differently. That passage shows us that your profession (1 John 4:2) and belief (1 John 5:1) in Jesus is the evidence of your being born of God (Romans 10:10). 1 John 5 also tells us that we are able to love God, love others, keep commandments and overcome the world (it’s temporary state, sin, worldliness, the prince of the world [Satan]) solely through our “birth.” We can’t love the way we’re made to or obey God the way He intended us to unless He gives birth to us. 

A good way to look at it is through an equation I came up with from that specific passage:


So I had this passage on lock-down. But what the heck does being born of God even mean?

The same guy, John, writes about this elsewhere; specifically in the first chapter of his Gospel.

[9] The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. [10] He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. [11] He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. [12] But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, [13] who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

Here we have John talking about Jesus coming to the world, being rejected by some and received by others. Verse 12 contrasts the rejectors with something that should spark a little bit of curiosity. The people that did receive Jesus and his message of salvation “[were given] the right to become children of God...” Given a right? To what exactly? To become children of God. Verse 13 takes us even deeper so we have to pay close attention to what John is writing: “who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” So what’s all going on here? John 1: 9-13 shows us that the factor between being a child of God and not being a child of God is receiving and believing his name.

...then verse 13 shows up on the block and decides to hammer you right into your brain bone...

Verse 13 tells us that to be a child of God you have to be born by the will of God. This birth is unlike any birth on the face of this planet. It’s not of blood, not of flesh nor of man but of God. No thinking or wanting to be born of God will make you be born of God. This verse states that to be a child of must be born of God. I cannot be Cristiano Ronaldo’s son no matter how badly I want to be; I cannot will it or desire it enough to make it happen. The only way for that to happen is to have been born of him. When it comes to being born of God all the action, all the doing, and all the making it happen rests in God’s hands and His alone.

So what does that have to do with heaven? Why exactly is this as important as life and death?

Because Jesus says that the only way to heaven is to be born again. 

John 3:1-8 shows us a more in-depth picture but also the severity and profundity of having to be born again.

[1] Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. [2] 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.” [3] Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” [4] 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?” [5] Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. [6] That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. [7] Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ [8] 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.”

Nicodemus at this point asks what we all should ask: “How?!” Jesus goes on to explain that unless “one is born again” they cannot enter heaven. He then get’s more specific and explains that “unless one is born of water and the Spirit” they won’t make it to heaven. Many believe that this is talking about salvation through baptism. That can’t be true because that falls under the “will of man” category which is not how you’re born of God. Referring to water and Spirit, Jesus talks of the same water and Spirit that God mentions through the prophet Ezekiel in Ezekiel 36:22-27.

[22] “Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. [23] And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord GOD, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. [24] I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. [25] I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. [26] And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. [27] And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

Ezekiel is prophesying what God will do for his people when he brings them back from exile in Babylon. This is the New Covenant. The implications reach further than the people of Israel, because Jesus claims to secure the New Covenant by his blood for all who will trust in him (Luke 22:20, emphasis added). So when Jesus says that only those who are born of the Spirit and water will enter the Kingdom of God he is saying that the those who will enter are those who have a newness that involved a cleansing of the old and a creation of the new by God.

Going back to John 3, Jesus, after referencing Spirit and water, tells Nicodemus that when it comes to new birth not to marvel. That being born of the Spirit is like the wind; you don’t know where it comes from or where it goes. An understandable question to ask ourselves is, “Well how is someone born again/born of God/born of water and Spirit?” Jesus would simply tell you, “By the will of God through his Spirit.” To which we would marvel, think deeply, and ask more questions. “ is one chosen by God to be born again?” We would endlessly ask a bajillion “how’s.” Jesus knows our hearts like Nicodemus’. He tells us not to marvel because we’ll never know. We don’t know and can’t know how the Spirit works in terms of birthing and spending time to try to figure it out would be futile. All we can do with the spirit is what we do with the wind; we “hear it’s sound,” we know it’s there, we know it’s around and at work. How do we know the Spirit is at work? When it has blown people to profess and believe that Jesus has come in the flesh.

“By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God,” (1 John 4:2)

Four years ago, God worked in my heart. I came to believe and profess Christ. But it wasn’t until two months ago that I fully understood the gravity of what was done and who was at work. It had less to do with me than I thought.. All I had to offer to the table was sin. To which God responded with grace.

Maybe you’re reading this and you don’t believe in Jesus. I would urge you to consider and think about your life and everything around you. There is more to life than just living...and then dying. We were made for more than just that. After our time on Earth is up we go to one of two places. Either we spend eternity in fellowship with the Creator of this Earth or in hell. The only way to enter the Kingdom of God is to be born of God. That requires a second birth. My plea is that you would believe in Jesus. If you don’t know who this “guy” is and why he makes all these bold claims, ask. Don’t be afraid to ask things you don’t know or prideful in thinking you know everything about this Jesus gig. Ask me, ask a pastor, ask one of your Christian friends; your friend circle is bound to have at least one person that believes in Jesus. Think and ask questions about life and death. Hunt for truth.

Maybe you’re reading this and you are a Christian. Be encouraged and reminded of your salvation. Be reminded that when you truly believed in Jesus that so much more occurred than you could have imagined. That a living breathing God worked things together sovereignly and miraculously and lavished grace upon you to bring you closer to Him; to secure you eternally with Him. And all that was possible not through anything you or I or anyone could have done. But it was only through God’s will for you to be born a child of God.


Izzy El-Ubaydy

Izzy El-Ubaydy


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