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, 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? (Gospel of John, chapter 3, verses 4 to 9).
I think we all have questions like Nicodemus, until we actually experience the change in our lives brought about by the new birth. Even then, there is confusion about how this change actually took place. Here is a brief exposition of what the Bible has to say on the subject.
As I read the Scriptures, there are three parts to the new birth. They are not really experienced as three steps to a new life, but when one considers what has taken place in his life, he will be able to identify that all three of these were part of his experience.
First is the call of God, through the Holy Sprit. “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him” (John 6:44). “And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father” (John 6:65. “And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent” (Acts 17:30). “Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?” (Romans 2:4). “But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation” (1 Peter 1:15).
Secondly, we must repent. “In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:1 & 2). “From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). “And they went out, and preached that men should repent” (Mark 6:12). “I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13L5). “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19). “Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21).
The third part is the adoption of the new believer by God. “For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15). “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God” (Romans 8:16). “And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ” (Galatians 4:6 & 7). “ But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-25).
Some profess that the new birth is wholly a work of divine election and irresistible grace, with man having no choice in the matter. Others teach that we have only to accept the promises of God and that this is entirely our own choosing.
The Bible rather teaches that God must first call us, awakening our heart and conscience to our sinfulness and need of salvation. We can either accept or reject this call, God does not override our freedom of choice. Repentance is the act of accepting God’s judgement on our sinfulness and seeking His forgiveness. But it is not enough for us to judge the state of our heart and say that we have repented. Salvation is not complete until we have received the Holy Spirit, the token that God has accepted us as His child. This adoption produces fruit in our lives that will be evident to others.
For most people, the experience of the new birth is a very quiet event. For some, it can be quite dramatic. It is not the nature of the experience that makes us a child of God, it is the fruit of the Holy Spirit working in our lives that identifies us as His child.