Regeneration Is a Mystery


Despite the fact that regeneration is required for a person's spiritual life, the experience of new birth can be difficult to put into words.

“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” (v. 8).  - John 3:4–8

Regeneration is absolutely necessary if a person is to enter the kingdom of heaven (John 3:3). No one is born a child of God. A change of heart effected by the Holy Spirit must first take place. In fact, the label “born-again Christian” is redundant, for it is impossible to be a Christian unless one is born again.

Despite the fact that regeneration is required for spiritual life, it must be admitted that the experience of the new birth can be difficult to put into words. There is a great deal of mystery concerning the working of the Spirit in our lives. We know that He works, but we cannot always explain how He works. In fact, the actual process of regeneration takes place within and is not visible to our physical eyes. This is one of the realities Jesus points out in John 3.

In this passage, Jesus continues His discussion with Nicodemus, a Pharisee who sits on the Sanhedrin, the religious governing body of Israel in the first century. While Nicodemus shows interest in Jesus, he is not yet a disciple of Christ as shown in his failure to grasp what Jesus is talking about — being born from above, not a second physical birth (v. 4). Our Lord goes on to clarify His point, talking about the need of the Spirit’s work in regeneration (v. 5).

In His instruction Jesus points out the mysterious nature of the Holy Spirit by likening Him to the blowing of the wind (v. 8). Interestingly, the word for spirit in the original Hebrew, ruach, is also the word we translate into English as “wind.” The Greek term pneuma functions in the same way. Knowing that the Spirit’s work is invisible, like the wind, it makes perfect sense that the biblical authors would use the same term for both “wind” and “spirit.”

We all know that we can feel the wind and see its effects as it bends tree branches and so on. Nevertheless, we cannot actually see the wind itself. Similarly, we do not see the Holy Spirit Himself, but His work is evident in the fruit that He produces in the lives of all true believers (Gal. 5:22–23). We can know that we are born again if we find the evidence of the Spirit’s work in our hearts — a desire for the things of God and a life of repentance.  

Coram Deo

None of us will desire the things of God perfectly before we are glorified. None of us will love the Lord as much as he should this side of heaven. Still, the presence of such things at all in our hearts is proof of regeneration. No unregenerate person will have a desire for these things; at best he will be indifferent. What evidence can you find of the Spirit’s work in your heart today?

Passages for Further Study
  • Joel 2:28–29
  • Matthew 3:8
  • 1 Timothy 1:17
  • 1 John 4:2–3

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