The New Birth

by Leland M. Haines

Repentance involves a radical change of mind and heart. When man's repentance and faith are real, God's grace will create in him a "new birth." The new birth is an experience and fact associated with the redemption brought by Jesus Christ. He emphasized the importance of the new birth in a discussion He had with a Jewish leader and a member of the Sanhedrin. Nicodemus knew that Jesus was "a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him" (John 3:2). He respected Jesus as a Master Teacher and apparently had come to learn from Him.

Since He was a Jew, and most first-century Jews opposed Roman rule and wished for the restoration of Israel's kingdom, Jesus often addressed the issue of the kingdom of God. He told Nicodemus, "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3). Jesus tied a spiritual change to the reality of the kingdom of God. Because this spiritual connection puzzled Nicodemus, he asked, "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" (vv. 4-6). Jesus emphasized the spiritual nature of the new birth: a person had to be "born of water and of the Spirit," because that "born of the Spirit is spirit" (v. 6).

Although there is some disagreement among Bible teachers as to the meaning of being "born of water," the most logical meaning seems to relate to the issue at hand3/4the kingdom. Since John the Baptizer tied repentance and preparedness to enter the kingdom to water baptism, surely Jesus and Nicodemus must had this in mind. After all, even the King was baptized, not as an act of repentance, but as a sign of His identification with the prepared people and the kingdom message.

In Jewish theology, water baptism was required for a proselyte to be incorporated into the kingdom of Israel. It marked the change or "new birth" of the candidate, signifying his disassociation from his past life and identity and his acceptance of the new way of life. On occasion he was even given a new name.

To this day, when a Jewish person of orthodox background is converted to faith in Christ, the family will reluctantly tolerate this change. However, when the person is baptized, the Jewish family considers him as deceased and sometimes even has a funeral service declaring that "fact." The convert to Christianity has died to his old way of life and has been born into a new identity and life, and baptism symbolizes the demarcation point.

Jesus went on to tell Nicodemus, "Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit" (John 3:7, 8). There is a mystery involved in being "born again" as there is a mystery about the wind. Miraculously, the Holy Spirit operates on the soul, making a telling impact on a person's will, desires, and values, giving a new direction to his life. The person turns from his natural inclination to rebel against God to an earnest desire to obey God. How this occurs and what mixture there is of truth, intellect, and the Holy Spirit's operations is beyond human understanding. We know, however, that these work together to produce an effect clearly visible in an individual's life. >p>When Jesus was asked about who was the greatest in the kingdom, He said, "Verily, I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:3; cf. John 3:3). The new birth results in a complete change in a person's life. "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" (II Corinthians 5:17). The Christian will continue in a childlike faith he began with because of the new birth, and his willingness to learn will continue throughout life. He will "set [his] affection on things above, not on things on the earth" (Colossians 3:2). The Christian will listen to the Word and the Holy Spirit will lead him to accept its teachings. The new birth will make him a "child of God" (Matthew 18:1; cf. Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:17; I John 3:2, 10; etc.).

The necessity of the new birth is confirmed in other New Testament writings. Paul reveals how the Christian's old nature is affected by the new birth: "They that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts" (Galatians 5:24). He wrote further to explain how the old covenant ritualism no longer was important, "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature" (6:15). Peter underscores this truth when he writes, "Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever" (I Peter 1:23).

The new birth is absolutely necessary because of man's sinful nature3/4"that which is born of the flesh is flesh" (John 3:6)3/4and because man is "dead in trespasses and sins" (Ephesians 2:1). Paul explains what this means: "The carnal mind is enmity against [or hostile towards] God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God" (Romans 8:7, 8). Those "in the flesh" are controlled by sinful passions that work in them and "bring forth fruit unto death" (7). These people will never see God unless something happens to the sin barrier created by man. God is holy and cannot permit sin in His presence. Only the "pure in heart" shall see God (Matthew 5:8). This sin barrier can only be removed by God's Son and the work of the Holy Spirit, which results in a radically changed human nature through a rebirth. The new birth begins a process that makes the sinner "pure in heart." Thus the new birth is central and crucial to restoring man to his original position of fellowship and sonship with God. This restored position results in Christians following the commandment of love (22:37, 39; cf. Luke 10:27; John 14:15; I John 4:7, 8, 11) that springs from a pure heart, a good consience, and a sincere faith (I Timothy 1:5 NKJV).

The restored position resulting from the new birth is accompanied by a desire to do God's will. This results in a life of discipleship. Jesus spoke of these results: "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life" (John 10:27, 28); "If ye love me, keep my commandments. He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him" (14:15,; see vv. 15-24); "I am the true vine. . . . Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. . . . Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples" (15:1-8).

from Redemption Realized Through Christ, © copyright 1996 by Leland M. Haines, Northville, MI.


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June 22, 2000