(from Key Words of the Christian Life, pg. 37-45)
The English word “regeneration” simply means new birth, renewal or restoration. It is used only twice in our Authorized Version of the Bible. In Titus 3:5 we read about a personal regeneration: “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” Do not allow that word “washing” to make you think of baptism, because regeneratlon – being born again – does not come through baptism. The word “washing” in Titus 3:5 is parallel to the word “renewing” at the end of the verse: “By the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” Personal regeneration is the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the person who trusts Christ as his Saviour. So there is a personal regeneration.
But there is also a universal regeneration. Our Lord speaks about this in Matthew 19:28: “And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” Our Lord tells us there is going to be a future regeneration of this world when He will sit upon a throne and He will judge and there will be glory and perfection.
The word “regeneration” (born again) simply means the act of God by which new life is imparted to the person who trusts Christ as his Saviour. Justification gives me a righteous standing before God; adoption gives me an adult standing before God, but regeneration gives me the life of God, the nature of God, in my very being.
Regeneration does not simply put us back to where we would have been had Adam never sinned. Regeneration is birth into a brand-new life; it is sharing the very life of God. It is not just a reformation. If regeneration were only reformation, then the next time you sinned, you would have lost it. No, regeneration is that act of God whereby the very life of God is communicated to those who trust Christ as their Saviour.
The classic text on regeneration is John 3. “There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: the same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, 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. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth [will], 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. Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be?” (vv. l-9).
This passage has been preached upon and taught for many, many centuries. It is familiar to us. In fact, I trust its familiarity does not rob us of its true meaning. There are several facts about regeneration, the new birth, that need to be understood, and they are given to us in this passage.
Reality of the New Birth
First of all, we are confronted with the reality of the new birth. The word “born” is used eight times in John 3:1-9. Jesus was talking about a real experience – the reality of the new birth. There are those who tell us that this experience of regeneration is psychological, that people can even have this kind of experience apart from faith in Jesus Christ. There are false religions and psychological approaches to religion which tell us that the new birth happens because of some psychological experience. The new birth is a reality; it is as real an experience as physical birth.
No one would deny his own physical birth, and we do not have to deny our spiritual birth. Jesus said that the new birth is a reality. If you would interview people who trusted Jesus, you would find out how real it is. Ask Peter; he knew what it was to trust in Jesus Christ and to experience this new birth. In his letters Peter tells us about this matter of being born again. Matthew, the publican, had his life radically changed because he trusted Christ and experienced the new birth. The thief on the cross turned to Jesus and said, “Remember me, Lord, when You come into Your kingdom” (see Luke 23:42). Because of his faith in Christ he was born again. Ask him whether or not it is a real experience.
Ask the Apostle Paul. Saul of Tarsus, the leading young Jewish rabbi of his day, was persecuting the church when he met Jesus Christ. He put his faith in Jesus Christ, and he was born again. It was a real experience.
When our Lord was ministering here on earth, everybody had some answers to the problems of life. The Romans said the way to solve life’s problems is through law, and you back up that law with the military. The Greeks said, “No, the way to solve problems is with wisdom. People need schools, understanding and philosophy.” Of course the Jewish people said, “No, the answer is religion. But you need sacrifices, a priesthood, the temple.” Jesus said the answer is in the heart. Law will never change the heart; wisdom will never change the heart; religion will never change the heart, but regeneration will. The reality of the new birth, the good news of the Gospel, is this: You can start all over again! You do not have to stay the way you are; you can start over again. Because there is such a thing as regeneration, you can be born again.
Simplicity of the New Birth
Next is the simplicity of the new birth. Our Lord Jesus used birth as a simple illustration of what happens when a person is saved. Even though he was a great teacher of Israel, Nicodemus unfortunately misunderstood what our Lord was talking about. “How can a man be born when he is old?” asked Nicodemus. “Can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (see John 3:4). Our Lord was talking about something spiritual, but Nicodemus interpreted this as something physical.
In John 4, when our Lord was talking to the woman at the well, He talked about living water. He said, “If you ask Me, I will give you water, and you will never be thirsty again” (see vv. 10,14). He was speaking spiritually, but she took Him literally and materially, and she said, “How can You give me any water? You don’t even have a vessel to draw with” (see v. 11).
In John 6, our Lord was talking about eating the Bread of Life, feeding on His flesh and His blood. The Jews were offended by this. But He wasn’t speaking in material terms. He tells us Himself that it is the Spirit that gives life; the flesh profits nothing (v. 63).
When Jesus spoke about birth, Nicodemus took Him literally. Jesus replied in John 3:5,6, “Except a man be born of water [physical birth] and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh [physical birth] is flesh.” Our Lord was saying, “Nicodemus, please don’t major on the physical and the material – I’m talking in spiritual terms.”
Two parents create this new birth – the Spirit of God and the Word of God, according to James 1: 18 and I Peter 1:23. We are born again by the Word of God, the living Word of God. The Spirit of God takes the Word of God and reveals the Son of God. And when you trust Jesus Christ as your Saviour, a miracle takes place in your heart – regeneration; you are born again. The two “spiritual parents” who accomplish this birth are the Spirit of God and the Word of God.
The Bible makes it very clear in John 1:13 that we are not born of the flesh, we are not born of the will of man, we are not born of our own efforts. No baby is born of his own effort. No baby can conceive himself. We are born by the Spirit of God.
Mystery is involved. I will confess that. In John 3:8 Christ says, “The wind bloweth where it listeth [will], 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.” He is not comparing the wind to the Holy Spirit, although that is a valid illustration. He is comparing the believer to the wind: “So is every one that is born of the Spirit.” There is mystery to physical birth; there is mystery to spiritual birth. But just think of how simple it is: Trust Jesus Christ, and you shall be born again.
Dignity of the New Birth
A third fact comes to our attention – the dignity of the new birth. The word translated “born again” can be translated “born from above.” We are born children of the King, children of God. “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his ., name (John 1:12). “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons [children] of God” (I John 3:l). The dignity of the new birth is an amazing thing. Children like to be proud of their parents. If we have some relative who is somebody important, we like to talk about it. We become name-droppers. You and I share the dignity of the new birth; we are the children of God-the God who created the universe, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are in His family, we share His nature. I have the nature of my parents, and my children have my nature. We have God’s nature within because we have been born from above, and this new nature creates a new disposition.
When you are one of God’s children and you share God’s nature, you live the way God wants you to live. God is love, and so we love; God is light, and so we walk as children of light. We share His nature and His life, and people can see a difference in our lives.
Urgency of the New Birth
Finally, the urgency of the new birth. Jesus said, “Ye must be born again” (John 3:7). It is not a suggestion, it is a commandment. It is not an idea that we can toy with; it is absolutely urgent – we must be born again. The new birth is instantaneous, it is not a process. There may be a process of preparation; you may have a desire to know God or a concern about getting rid of sin. But the birth itself is instantaneous, supernatural and permanent.
Once you are born, you can’t be unborn. You may be disobedient; you may not grow as you should, but you cannot be unborn. Our spiritual birth is a permanent, supernatural birth, and there is urgency to it. “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (v. 3). The god of this world blinds those who believe not. Until you are born again, you cannot see what you are missing; you cannot see what you really are; you cannot see all that God has for you. You must be born again not only to see the kingdom of God but to enter the kingdom of God. “Except a man be born of water [physical birth] and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (v. 5).
When you were born the first time, you entered into the kingdom of sin and Satan. You lived according to the course of this world, and you followed the dictates of Satan. But when you entered the kingdom of God through regeneration, then you became a part of that kingdom which is wonderful, eternal and glorious. The only way to escape eternal judgment is through faith in Christ. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (v. 16). That verse begins with love, but it ends with perish – “should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
Have you been thinking about this? Has God been talking to you? The reality of the new birth is that you can change; God will change you when you trust Christ. The simplicity of the new birth is that it is not through religion or good works but through trusting the Saviour. Imagine becoming a child of God and enjoying the dignity of the new birth! The urgency of the new birth is that you must be born again. If God has been talking to you about this, then open your heart now to Jesus Christ.
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Dr. Warren Wiersbe (1929-2019) was an internationally known Bible teacher, author, and conference speaker. He graduated in 1953 from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard, Illinois. While attending seminary, he was ordained as pastor of Central Baptist Church in 1951 and served until 1957. From September 1957 to 1961, Wiersbe served as Director of The Literature Division for Youth for Christ International. From 1961 to 1971 he pastored Calvary Baptist Church of Covington, Kentucky south of Cincinnati, Ohio. His sermons were broadcast as the “Calvary Hour” on a local Cincinnati radio station. From 1971 to 1978, He served as the pastor of Moody Church in Chicago 1971 to 1978. While at Moody Church he continued in radio ministry. Between August 1979 and March 1982, he wrote bi-weekly for Christianity Today as “Eutychus X”, taught practical theology classes at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and wrote the course material and taught a Doctor of Ministry course at Trinity and Dallas Seminary. In 1980 he transitioned to Back to the Bible radio broadcasting network where he worked until 1990. Dr. Wiersbe became Writer in Residence at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids and Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. In his lifetime, Dr. Wiersbe wrote over 170 books—including the popular Be series, which has sold over four million copies. Dr. Wiersbe was awarded the Gold Medallion Lifetime Achievement by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA).