In perhaps the most famous passage of Scripture in the New Testament, Jesus made a statement to a man named Nicodemus that has echoed through history.  Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).  From this point, we can know assuredly that the phrase “born again” was not coined by Jimmy Carter.  Instead, it was coined by Jesus Christ.  But, what exactly does being born again look like and how does it happen?  How can a person have assurance that they have or have not been born again?

Defining the New Birth

First of all, we must look into John 3 to see the true definition of the new birth.  It may come as a bit of a shock to some, but Jesus was not commanding Nicodemus to be born again.  Furthermore, Jesus has never commanded us to be born again.  What Jesus was communicating to Nicodemus was the fact that unless a person is born again, that individual will not see the kingdom of God.  The new birth is necessary to see and inherit the kingdom of God, but the new birth is outside of our power to merely perform it.  Contrary to popular evangelical opinion, you’re not born again when you “ask Jesus into your heart.”  In fact, we don’t see people asking Jesus into their hearts in the New Testament.  In the New Testament, we see references to regeneration, repentance, and faith.  The work of salvation involves ten specific points and being born again (regeneration) is one of the ten.

Order of Salvation:

1. Election (God’s choice of people to be saved)
2. The Gospel Call (proclaiming the message of the gospel)
3. Regeneration (being born again)
4. Conversion (faith and repentance)
5. Justification (right legal standing)
6. Adoption (membership in God’s family)
7. Sanctification (right conduct of life)
8. Perseverance (remaining a Christian)
9. Death (going to be with the Lord)
10. Glorification (receiving a resurrection body)
*List taken from Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, Chapter 32.

In order to illustrate His point regarding the sovereignty of God in the act of regeneration, Jesus went on in John 3:7-8 to make the following statement:

Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ [8] The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Just as the wind comes on its own and blows across the landscape, we cannot see the wind, control the wind, or prevent the wind.  The wind comes and the only thing we can do is observe the effects.  In the same manner the Holy Spirit moves upon people and causes them to be born again by applying the power of the gospel to them.  This is what Paul was saying when he wrote to the church at Ephesus and said these words:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins [2] in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—[3] among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. [4] But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, [5] even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved (Ephesians 2:1-5).

Paul placed the emphasis of the new birth upon the power of God as He “made us alive together with Christ” and as he concludes, he points out that it’s a work of grace.  In short, the new birth is not something that we perform in the flesh (Titus 3:3-7).  It’s completely a work of God.

Assurance of the New Birth

We do not cooperate with God in the work of salvation.  From start to finish, the work of salvation is a work of God.  He chose us before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1), He sent His Son to die for us (Is. 53), He commissioned His followers to preach and teach the gospel (Matt. 28), He commissioned the Holy Spirit to provide the new birth (John 3), and then He gave to the new believer the gifts of repentance and faith (2 Tim. 2:25; Eph. 2:8-9).

Just as there is evidence that a wind storm has blown across the landscape as it leaves debris and other visual effects behind, we can have assurance that we’ve been born again based on the following biblical evidence:

  • The new birth causes a person to repent (2 Tim. 2:25; Mark 1:15).
  • The new birth causes a person to have faith in Christ alone for salvation (John 14:6).
  • The new birth causes a person to hate sin (Ps. 97:10).
  • The new birth causes a person to love God and His righteousness (Mark 12:30; Matt. 6:33).
  • The new birth causes a person to hate the world (1 John 2:15).
  • The new birth causes a person to have an appetite for holiness (1 Pet. 1:16).
  • The new birth causes a person to desire to follow Christ in baptism (Matt. 28:19).
  • The new birth causes a person to desire to identify with the people of God through a local church (Acts 2:42-47).
  • The new birth results in a love for God’s people – not a hatred and dislike for them (1 Pet. 4:8; 1 John 4:7).
  • The new birth causes a person to want to know more about God through His Word – the Bible (Ps. 119; Ps. 19).
  • The new birth causes a person to change in order to conform to Christ (2 Cor. 5:17; Rom. 12:1-2).

A true child of God will not walk away from Him.  Some people talk about how they were a Christian for many years before they finally walked away from God.  That is simply not true.  The only reason a person can walk away from God is because that individual was never a true Christian.  Genuine Christianity is a permanent reality.  It does not mean that a life of rebellion and hardship will not occur, but it does mean that the rebellious person will be disciplined by the loving Father and brought to a place of repentance and restoration (Heb. 12:6).

Do you love the world and the things of this world or do you love God?  Read 1 John and ask yourself at the conclusion of each paragraph, “Is this me?”