ALL THINGS NEW

A NEW BIRTH

We have looked at several aspects of the new reality that God is establishing in and through Jesus Christ, his Son. We have seen the joy of the new song that God has put in the hearts of those who believe in his Son; we have seen that these believers have been given a new heart and live in a new relationship with God that is referred to in terms of a new covenant, a new and living way, a new creation.

But we have not really faced the question: how does this transition take place? How does an unbeliever become a believer? How do we get a new heart? How do we get out of the old reality and into the new reality? Out of the old performance based relationship with God in which sin, judgement and death reigned and into the new relationship with God in which grace and life reign? Out of our rebellion and into repentance?

This radical change, this reversal of the status quo, this rescue from the default human position, is expressed by the term ‘regeneration’. In the Bible it is called being ‘born again’, ‘born anew’, ‘born from above’, ‘born of the Spirit’, ‘born of God’. Jesus told Nicodemus that unless this occurs we can neither see nor enter the kingdom of God [John 3:3-8].

The Bible teaches that, left to ourselves, apart from this work of the Holy Spirit, we are nothing but ‘flesh’ [John 3:6], and disconnected and alienated from God, the source and giver of spiritual life: we are dead in trespasses and sin [Ephesians 2:1,5]; we are powerless [Romans 5:6]; we cannot come to the Father except through Jesus Christ [John 14:6] and we cannot come to the Son except the Father draws us [John 6:44]. To know God is eternal life [John 17:3], but Jesus, the Son of God, said that no one knows the Father except those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him [Matthew 11:27]. Regeneration, being born again, occurs when God, of his own will, in an action of sheer grace, comes to us in our deadness, our inability, our disempowerment, our blindness, our exile, our unbelief, and does for us that which we are utterly incapable of doing.

“Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” [John 1:12,13].

This regeneration, this new birth, is the result of the powerful, gracious, unseen work of God, the Holy Spirit. 

We do not regenerate ourselves. Just as an infant does not bring itself to birth, so also we do not bring ourselves to spiritual new birth. We, who are spiritually dead, are the passive recipients of the life-giving action of God.

This truth is prophetically depicted in Ezekiel 37 where the prophet is confronted by a valley filled with very dry human bones. The Lord asked Ezekiel: 'Son of man, can these bones live.' Ezekiel replied: 'O Sovereign Lord, you alone know' [37:3]. Then that which is impossible happened. By the power of the Lord the bones were clothed with flesh and lived. Life replaced death. Even so, God says to those who are dead in sin: “I will put my Spirit in you and you will live … Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it.” [37:14].

How does God, the Holy Spirit, do this amazing, incredible, glorious, gracious thing?

1Peter 1:23 teaches us that God does it by his Word: “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.”

God, the Holy Spirit, takes the Word of God, and by that Word liberates us from our blind and enslaving ignorance, liberates us from our captivity to death, and sets our spirit free to believe and receive and to live again with God. [Read John 8:31,36.]

Those whom the Spirit brings to new birth through the living and enduring Word of God, receive Jesus Christ, they believe in his name [John 1:12]. Those who are born of God believe in the Lord Jesus Christ [1John 5:1].

So quiet, yet so effective and so gracious, is this work of the Spirit through the Word that it seems to us that this new birth is the result of our receiving and our believing. But it is entirely the other way around: we receive and we believe only because of the unseen regenerating work of the Spirit. Here eternity [the regenerating action of the Spirit through the Word] breaks through into time [our decision to believe and receive Jesus Christ]. Here God and man are reunited. Here eternal life replaces death.

© Rosemary Bardsley 2012