Question: "What is the new birth?"
Answer: Jesus discussed the new birth in His conversation with Nicodemus, a Jewish leader, in John 3. Jesus said to him, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again” (John 3:3). Nicodemus was puzzled and asked how anyone could re-enter his mother’s womb and be born a second time. Jesus doubled down: “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit” (verse 5). Then He expounded on what the new birth is.
Jesus explained that this new birth is not physical, but spiritual. The new birth that we must experience in order to “see the kingdom of God” is a work of the Holy Spirit. Just as a mother does all the work in physical birth, so the Holy Spirit does all the work in the new birth. Upon our faith in the saving power of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit enters our spirits, regenerates us, and begins His work of transforming us into the image of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). We are born again.
We are all born with a sin nature that separates us from our Creator. We were designed in His own image (Genesis 1:27), but that image was tarnished when we fell into sin. As sinners, we cannot fellowship with a holy God the way we are. We cannot be repaired, restored, or rehabilitated. We need to be reborn.
In answer to Nicodemus’s questions about the new birth, Jesus began talking about the wind: “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3:5–8).
In His analogy of the wind in John 3:8, Jesus was comparing physical birth and growth with spiritual birth and growth. Jesus points out that Nicodemus need not marvel at the necessity of the Spirit causing one to be “born again.” Nicodemus naturally believed in other things as difficult to understand, such as the wind, which he could not see. The effects of the wind are obvious: the sound is heard, and things move as it moves. The wind, unseen, unpredictable, and uncontrollable, is mysterious to us, but we see and understand its effects. So it is with the Spirit. We do not see the Spirit, but we see the changes the Spirit produces in people. Sinful people are made holy; liars speak truth; the proud become humble. When we see such changes, we know they have a cause. The Spirit affects us just as the wind affects the trees, water, and clouds. We don’t see the cause, and we don’t understand all the in’s and out’s of how it works, but we see the effect and believe.
When an infant is born, he continues to grow and change. A year later, two years later, ten years later, the child has changed. He does not remain an infant because a live birth results in growth. We may not see this growth happening, but we see the changes it produces. So it is with the new birth. When a person is born again in spirit, he or she is born into the family of God “like newborn babies” (1 Peter 2:2). This birth is not visible, but it begins to produce changes that are evident.
The following are some changes that follow the new birth:
1. The “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22–23). Someone who has experienced the new birth will begin to exhibit character qualities that are more like Jesus. This doesn’t happen overnight, but just as a fruit tree grows and begins to produce fruit in season, we begin to produce godly character traits such as love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control. These traits are the natural result of yielding to the Spirit and spending time with God in His Word, with His people, and in worship.
2. Godly choices. Sins that once captivated us begin to fall away as we grow closer to Jesus. Our new birth broke the power that sin had over us and enables us to live in freedom. Romans 6 explains that we have died to our old way of life and are free to live as we were designed to live. Colossians 3:5 says, “Put to death, therefore, the components of your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, and greed, which is idolatry” (cf. 1 Peter 4:1). This death to sin is an ongoing process as we grow in our faith and love for the Lord.
3. Love for other Christians. One of the changes the new birth produces is love: “We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister” (1 John 4:19–21). A person who has been born into the family of God craves fellowship with other believers. God did not create a team where players can be traded. He did not create a corporation where employees can be fired. He created a family where every member is valued and equally loved. As part of His family, those who’ve been born again are to love and appreciate the other members of this worldwide family.
4. Spiritual gifts. A part of God’s welcome package to those who are born of His Spirit are spiritual gifts that we can use to serve Him and edify the church. Spiritual gifts are special abilities that enable us to be more effective in the particular callings God places on our lives. As each member uses his or her gifts for the good of all, God’s family thrives.
New babies crave milk, and, without it, they won’t grow. Likewise, new Christians crave biblical teaching or they won’t grow. Peter wrote, “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” The new birth is only the beginning of the life God designed for us. It is also the only way we can enter the family of God and receive the privilege of calling Him “Father” (see Matthew 6:9; Romans 8:15).