The Spirit and the New Birth
“In reply Jesus declared, ‘I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again’” (v. 3). - John 3:1-21
According to Genesis 2:7, when God made the first man, He formed him of the dust of the ground and then breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. The Breath of God is His Spirit, and it is clear from Genesis 2:7 that it is the Spirit who generates man from clay. The Nicene Creed calls Him “the Lord and Giver of life,” and it is the Spirit who generated and who sustains each of us in life.
Because of Adam’s sin, however, all men and women are born under judgment, the judgment of death (Genesis 3). All humanity is dead in Adam, and this “death nature” works more sin in us, so that the downward spiral of death and sin and more death and more sin is manifest in the life of every person. If we are going to have life, it is necessary for the Spirit of God to break the cycle of death and sin and breathe new life into us. This process is called regeneration.
Ephesians 2:1 says that we were dead in trespasses and sins. In order for us to enter into the kingdom of God, we must be resurrected from the dead and born again into a new life. A dead corpse cannot decide to come to life again, and spiritually dead people cannot decide to be born again. Second Corinthians 5:17 says that if we are in Christ, we are a new creation. Just as we had nothing to do with creating ourselves in the first place, and just as we had nothing to do with being born, so we have nothing to do with our recreation, resurrection, and regeneration.
The new birth, the new creation, the resurrected life—this is the sovereign work of God the Holy Spirit. Left to ourselves we would never turn to God, as John 6:44 says: “No man is able to come to Me unless it is given to him of the Father.” Regeneration, the new birth, is the result of God’s sovereign initiative.
We don’t choose to be born again. We don’t come to Christ to be born again; rather, we are born again in order to come to Christ. When we make a decision to turn from sin and receive Christ, it is because we have already been born again by the Spirit. All persons are generated and sustained by the Lord and Giver of life, and all believers are regenerated and preserved by the same Spirit.
Regeneration precedes faith. Faith is a gift from God given as a consequence of the regenerating work of the Spirit. The divine initiative is preserved through this statement. If you believe differently, consider carefully the implications, especially for the doctrine of God, the work of Christ, and the nature of man.
Passages for Further Study
- Psalm 119:50
- Isaiah 5:3
- 2 Corinthians 1:3–6
- Revelation 20:11–15
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