Written by Ángel Manuel Rodríguez
What is the new birth that Jesus spoke about in John 3?
The new birth belongs to a number of biblical mysteries too deep for us to understand fully. Obviously, in this case, what is of real value is experiencing it. Nevertheless, understanding as much about it as we can is also useful.
1. The “new birth” metaphor describes the origin of the Christian. It suggests that Christians belong to a new humanity that is fundamentally different from the rest of humanity. Of course, Christians come into the world in the same way everybody else does—through natural birth. But they all have experienced a second birth, a mysterious birth. They have been “born of God” (John 1:13).* It is a spiritual birth, so to speak, that takes place in the human heart. Those born again are sons and daughters of God, having come into existence from above (John 3:6).
2. It is the work of the Holy Spirit. By its very nature, the new birth excludes human participation or initiative. It is a miracle of grace, exclusively the work of Christ through the Holy Spirit in the human heart. As a direct result of the cross, the whole planet has been surrounded by an atmosphere of grace. In such an atmosphere, the Spirit constantly works upon us to bring into existence The Reformers called this work of the Spirit common grace because it reaches everybody, although by itself it does not result in salvation. Its purpose, rather, is to attract the individual to the cross of Christ, to convict of sin, to soften the heart and make it sensitive to the love of God manifested on Calvary. Its ultimate goal is to move us to lift up our eyes to God and find salvation in Jesus (John 3:14).
In this process the Spirit works silently, wooing the human soul, creating in us a holy dissatisfaction, an unquenchable thirst for something better—a thirst for God.
3. The new birth is a transformation. Those who accept the invitation of the Spirit to surrender their hearts to Christ experience the mystery of the new birth. And it is here that we reach the limits of our understanding.
Something powerful and mysterious takes place at the very center of the human personality. It breaks through our sinful human nature to reach the very core of our being. It is the power of God. At the moment we surrender ourselves to Christ, the Spirit enters our lives and we are born again. This could happen quietly, or it could be a dramatic emotional experience.
So what exactly takes place at that moment? The central thing is that the Holy Spirit breaks into the mental and volitional center of our beings, bringing peace and ending our enmity toward God (Rom. 5:1). In a mysterious way, selfishness is defeated and the love of God is poured out into our hearts (verse 5); we become partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4)—new creatures, free from the enslaving power of sin (Rom. 6:18). This, however, is not a mystical experience in which we lose our consciousness and individuality. Rather, it is a personal, reconciling encounter with our Saviour that brings into our lives new desires in harmony with God’s will.
4. It reorients our lives. The new birth is the beginning of the Christian life. Now the Spirit empowers us to live as new creatures controlled by the love of God (2 Cor. 5:14) and not by the selfishness that characterizes those who are born only of flesh and blood. The principles implanted by the Spirit in our hearts should now take control of our daily lives, and through that power we begin to develop and reflect the values and loveliness of heaven. We are being regenerated daily into the likeness of our Saviour. God has promised: “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them” (Eze. 1:19). Why not pause a moment and pray for this change to commence in your life?*All Scripture quotations in this article are taken from the New International Version.