There is no way around it: We are not children of God if we are not born again.
“Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God’” (v. 3). - John 3:1–3
The Bible has much to say on the condition of the heart and the planting of the Gospel in ready soil (Matt. 13:18–30, 36–43; 15:1–20), thus emphasizing our need to have our hearts renewed or, as we commonly say in theology, regenerated by the Holy Spirit.
Language that points to the concept of regeneration has been common in American culture since 1976 when Jimmy Carter, who claimed to be a “born-again Christian,” was elected president of the United States. The term regeneration comes from two Greek words that can be literally translated as “born again,” but most people probably do not think of regeneration immediately when they hear this phrase. Indeed, there is much confusion over what it means to be “born again” because many who claim to be Christians think and live just like pagans. It does not help the situation either when we see various denominations defining regeneration differently from one another.
Note that every Christian denomination has a doctrine of regeneration. This is because Jesus Himself declares that we all need to be “born again.” One of the most important passages on this topic is Jesus’ famous encounter with Nicodemus in John 3:1–21. Christ does not pull any punches here, telling Nicodemus that “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (v. 3). Regeneration, being reborn spiritually and receiving a heart of flesh in place of a heart of stone (Ezek. 11:19–20), is absolutely necessary to see the Father.
For many of the Pharisees, this was a strange concept. Many of them believed they were entitled to the kingdom because they were physical descendants of Abraham. Yet no one is born a child of the kingdom, and one’s family ties matter not if the Holy Spirit has not changed the heart (John 8:31–59). There is no way around it, we are not children of God if we are not born again.
Many people are sitting in our pews today unaware that they must be born again. It is possible to grow up in the church and never put your faith in Jesus personally even if you have been baptized and confirmed. Have you been born again? Has your heart been changed so that you love the things of God? These are questions we all should be asking ourselves, especially if we have been in the church all our lives, lest we take the state of our souls for granted.
Passages for Further Study
- Psalm 51:10
- Ezekiel 36:26
- 1 Peter 1:3–5
- 1 John 3:1–10