In today’s Pastor’s Pen I want to briefly consider the doctrine of Regeneration, or the other term is the New Birth.  To begin with we should ask the question, “How does spiritual life occur in the life of a person?”  Common answers to this question are “by faith in Jesus,” or by “repentance and trust.”  These are of course true but they answer the question of what a person does in response to the truth, what they don’t answer is why or how one person responds and another doesn’t.  The doctrine of regeneration or the New Birth addresses this more fundamental question.  What enables us to respond to the message of Jesus is the special work of the Spirit of God in the New Birth.   What is the new birth?  “The new birth is the implanting of a new life in the soul.  It is the act of God by which a principle of new life is implanted in a person such that their disposition moves from death to life.”[1]  The classic passage on this topic is Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus.  There are two important observations I think worthy of our notice. First is that Jesus chose to teach this truth to this particular man and the second is the metaphor Jesus chose to teach this spiritual reality.  Let’s think briefly about Nicodemus.  What is so significant about why Jesus spoke this truth to this man?  To answer that we need to think about who is Nicodemus?  The passage tells us he is a pharisee, a member of the Sanhedrin and a “teacher of Israel.”  These three descriptions give us critical insight into this man.  He is highly educated, he is wealthy, he is very religious and moral, he’s successful and well connected.  From all points Nicodemus is not a person in need of moral reconstruction.  He is not an overly emotional type and he is not looking to Jesus because he senses personal need.  This can be seen by several facts when he addresses Jesus.  

First, he doesn’t ask a question but simply makes the statement “Teacher, we know you are from God because no one could do the works you are doing unless God is with him.”  Second, he calls him “Teacher,” not “Lord” or “Son of David” as others do who come to Jesus out of personal need.  Third speaks out of his group identity not with the personal pronoun “I.”  Yet to this very accomplished, moral, religious top of society person Jesus quite abruptly says, “I tell you the truth unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  What is Jesus getting at?  Just this, it doesn’t matter how far you are from God or what sins you have committed nor does it matter how much you have done or how well you have performed or how high you have ascended …  everyone without exception has to be born again by the Spirit of God.  This means that everyone “sinners” and “righteous persons” all start at the same point. 
Total dependency and need.   Jesus chooses this man to teach and illustrate that religious activity, moral achievement and societal achievement counts for nothing in the sight of God.  That’s the first point.  This is both comforting and humbling.  The second point is the metaphor of the new birth.  What do we learn about the new birth in this metaphor?  Several things.  First, life happens at conception.  At the moment of conception there is an explosion of life.  All that is needed for human life is written in at conception.  The new birth is like this in that the implantation of the Spirit of Life causes an explosion of life to occur in the formerly spiritually dead man or woman.  In another passage Paul says, “you who were dead in your transgressions have been made alive in Christ Jesus.”  Wherever the Spirit of God moves there is life.  So, the first part is to understand that the new birth is the sovereign work of God’s Spirit to bring new life where there was only deadness.  The second is the implanting of new sight.  Jesus says, “Unless one is born again you cannot see the kingdom of God.”  When a baby is born, they move from a dark place into a whole new world of life and part of that is the ability to see.  Spiritual life is the same way in that before regeneration we lived in darkness.  We thought we saw but we lived according to our understanding.  The Bible says, “If we say we have fellowship with him but we walk in darkness we life and do not practice the truth.”  The new birth gives us new senses.  We see things that before we did not understand.  We taste and see that the Lord is good.  We hear the word and we know it to be the voice of the shepherd.  So, you know you’re born again if and when you begin to “see” the new world of the kingdom of God.  

Thirdly and finally the new birth is an implanting of a new identity.  To be born of God means that God gives us a whole new identity.  We tend to build our identities on false foundations.  Things like our athletic ability, our musical ability, our academic accomplishments, our work and career or our family, or our financial success and many other things.  These are false and fragile identities that fall apart when something comes along that threatens them.  But to be born of God gives us an identity that is stable and enduring.  It means I am a child of God.  Loved. Created in his image.  Safe in his arms.  This changes us from the inside … if we will meditate upon it and learn to live out of it.  The new birth is the sovereign work of God to bring about a whole new life.  Wherever the Spirit of God is there is life.  Worship him today and thank him for making you alive in Jesus.  “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to be children of God.”

[1] Martin Lloyd Jones, “God the Holy Spirit” p. 78.