ISSUE: 2011, Volume 8, Issue 2
The YPS Magazine has also been produced in PDF format. To read these PDF's you will need a PDF Reader. The popular free Adobe Acrobat Reader is available from Adobe's website by clicking here.
‘Ye must be born again’ – THE CONCEPT OF BIBLICAL REGENERATION
Key Bible references – John 3. 1- 15; 1 John 2. 29; 3. 9; 4. 7; 5. 4.
The word ‘regeneration’ is used only twice in the King James Version of the Bible. The first is in Matthew chapter 19 verse 28, where the reference is to the coming earthly kingdom of the Lord Jesus, commonly called ‘The Millennium’. During that period of time, massive environmental changes will warrant the description, ‘regeneration’.
The second reference is in Titus chapter 3 verse 5, where the phrase ‘the washing of regeneration’ relates to our experience at conversion, and it is that concept of regeneration that concerns us here. We would more often refer to it as ‘the new birth’, or ‘being born again’. In the media and among the general public, there is much uninformed comment about the new birth. Most people speak of ‘born again Christians’ as if the folks referred to are part of a fanatical fringe sect that originated in America, and, in many minds, being born again is equated with the excesses of some Charismatic groups. There are few who understand that the Lord Jesus taught that this experience is a universal necessity, and the fundamental requirement for admission to God’s kingdom, for, ‘Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God’, John 3. 3.
The Need for the New Birth
We did not need to be born again because of anything we had ever done but simply because of what we were as fallen creatures descended from Adam. (Forgiveness was necessary for our wicked deeds).
Everyone in the world is descended from Adam through Seth, and when Adam fathered Seth he ‘begat (him) in his own likeness, after his image’, Gen. 5. 3. By that time Adam was a fallen, sinful man, and he was now transmitting the crippling legacy of a sinful nature to the next generation, and from that generation right on down to us.
The term ‘sinful nature’ is not a biblical expression, but it seems to adequately explain the meaning of what the Bible calls ‘the flesh’. When speaking of the need for the new birth, the Lord Jesus said, ‘That which is born of the flesh is flesh’, John 3. 6. Natural birth brings into the world people who are dominated by the sinful nature, and there is no hope of improvement for that sinful nature. ‘The mind of the flesh is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can it be’, Rom. 8. 7 RV. The flesh is so rebellious that even God made no attempt to make it any better. What He does is this: when someone believes on His Son, He imparts to them what the Bible calls, ‘the divine nature’, 2 Pet. 1. 4. This new birth gives us the capacity to quit the former sinful lifestyle, and produce something in our lives for God.
As noted already, another reason as to why the new birth is essential is that without it there is no access to the kingdom of God, John 3. 3, 5.
The Source of the New Birth
God is said to be the instigator of the new birth: hence, the phrase, ‘born of God’, e.g., 1 John 4. 9. John speaks of the children of God as being ‘born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God’, John 1. 13. From the individual’s side, ‘receiving Christ’, that is, ‘believing on His name’, is the factor that brings about the divine activity of regeneration, v. 12. New birth is ‘not of blood’, that is, it is not a genetic trait that runs in the blood. It is certainly not effected by the sinful nature for it is ‘not of the will of the flesh’. It is not ‘of the will of man’, in that no one else could ever achieve it for us; it is a divine activity.
The person of the Godhead who is particularly involved in this activity is the Holy Spirit, and so the Lord Jesus used the phrase, ‘born of the Spirit’, John 3. 6. (It is an incidental evidence of the deity of the Holy Spirit that on occasions new birth is described as being ‘born of God’, and at other times, ‘born of the Spirit’; the Holy Spirit is equated with God). In John chapter 3 verse 5, water is a symbol of the Holy Spirit. A legitimate translation of the verse is, ‘born of water, even the Spirit’. The use of water as a symbol indicates the cleansing effect of the new birth. In changing the symbol to the wind in verse 8, the Lord was indicating the sovereignty of the Spirit’s activity.
The cleansing effect of the new birth was again stressed by Paul when he spoke about ‘the washing of regeneration’, Titus 3. 5. It is illustrated in an Old Testament passage with which Nicodemus was familiar, a passage where water and the Spirit are brought together. ‘Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean . . . A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you . . . And I will put my spirit within you’, Ezek. 36. 25-27.
The instrument that God uses to bring about the new birth is His word. When the gospel is received and believed, the miracle of regeneration takes place. ‘Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth’, Jas. 1. 18. ‘Being born again . . . by the word of God’, 1 Pet. 1. 23. The word of God generates faith in human hearts, for ‘faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God’, Rom. 10. 17. No wonder Paul impressed Timothy with something that we all need to heed, ‘preach the word’, 2 Tim. 4. 2. For an effective, lasting work of God, there is no substitute for the preaching of His word.
Descriptions of the New Birth
The term ‘born again’, John 3. 3, 7, is literally ‘born from above’. The word is used later in the chapter; ‘He that cometh from above’, v. 31. ‘Born from above’ is a term that indicates that the transaction has no relationship with this world or the process of generation connected with human life; it is sourced in heaven.
The description ‘born again’ is used twice by Peter in 1 Peter chapter 1 verses 3 and 23. This phrase demonstrates that the experience is new and revolutionary. ‘If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new’, 2 Cor. 5. 17. The new birth changes a person’s life. If there is no change then there is doubt about the reality of the profession.
References have already been made to two further descriptions of regeneration, ‘born of God’ and ‘born of the Spirit’. The first is an indication that the experience places us in God’s family. The other reminds us that the Spirit who regenerated us, and came to reside within us at that moment, is the same Holy Spirit who empowers us for Christian living and Christian service, Rom. 8. 4; 1 Cor. 2. 4.
Evidences of the New Birth
It has already been stated that the experience of the new birth is life changing. What kind of changes can be expected? What would be the evidences that someone’s claim to be born again is valid? In his epistle, John explains the characteristics of those who have been ‘born of God’. Essentially, they will take character from their Father, and exhibit the moral features of the family of God.
The first quality of those who have been born again is righteousness. ‘If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him’, 1 John 2. 29. Habitually, doing righteousness is not a feature of mankind in general, for, ‘There is none righteous, no, not one’, Rom. 3. 10. Doing righteousness means honesty and integrity. It means that in money matters everything is ethical and above board. It means that the biblical standard of morality is the norm. ‘Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness’, Matt. 5. 6. Are you doing righteousness?
Another evidence of the new birth is freedom from sin’s habits, ‘Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin’, 1 John 3. A surface reading may leave the impression that born-again people are perfect and never, ever commit sin. That would fly in the face of teaching elsewhere in John’s epistle. While he wrote his letter to discourage sin among God’s people, he did anticipate that there could be occasions when believers would fail, ‘if any man sin . . . ’, 2. 1. The tense in that phrase indicates isolated acts of sin in contrast to the tense of chapter 3 verse 9 where the thought is that of constant, regular, habitual sinning. John is saying that a person who is born again will not go on sinning in that persistent way. Peter was able to detect that Simon the sorcerer was not genuine because he was still in ‘the bond of iniquity’, that is, he was still enslaved to sin, Acts 8. 23. People who have been truly born again have liberty from the habits of sin; they do not routinely ‘commit sin’ in their lives. Are you free, or are you still shackled by sin?
Another feature of people in the family of God is that they love their Father and each other. ‘Every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God’, 1 John 4. 7. In the context of John’s epistle, love is not just an emotion, but something intensely practical. ‘My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth’, 3. 18. In other words, those who have been born again will have a genuine care for the other members of their spiritual family.
A final evidence of a true experience of regeneration is the capacity to overcome the world. By the world, John means the world system that is orchestrated by the devil and is opposed to God. It involves philosophies, traditions, mind-sets, fashions, religions, and anything else that is contrary to a holy God. The world pressurizes believers to conform to its standards, and embrace its way of life, but, ‘whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world’, 5. 4. People with a genuine faith will be overcomers, for those who have been born again maintain a firm belief in the Lord Jesus, v. 1, and that faith is a shield against the subtle influence of the world.
Let us all assess our lives, and ask if the evidences of the new birth are there. If not, ‘Ye must be born again’.