Once in his conversation with a notable Jewish leader Jesus made this astounding statement: “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again” (Jn. 3:3). The Jewish leader himself, who was likely a Bible scholar, was dumbfounded and bewildered by this statement. Today after all these centuries many people are still dumbfounded and bewildered by it.
This statement of Jesus did not introduce some obscure or enigmatic doctrine, but one that is central in New Testament teaching. We see the same idea presented much later in 1 John 3:9: “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God.” The concept of new birth is referred to as a “quickening” in Ephesians 2:1, 4-5: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins… But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” The new birth is also called a transformation or renewal of our nature as we see in Romans 12:2 and in Titus 3:5.
The New Testament also speaks of the new birth as a partaking of the divine nature. In 2 Peter 1:4 we read: “Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.”
Now we want to consider the steps that must be taken if one is to be born again.
WE MUST ACKNOWLEDGE AND CONFESS OUR SINS
It is true that many folks today do not acknowledge their sin. They feel they are pretty good people regardless of what the Bible says about them. Others try to disguise their sin by calling it by more pleasant-sounding names. Unfortunately, if folks insist on keeping such attitudes they will never inherit the Kingdom of God.
In the Bible, the confession of our sin is a very important thing. One of the New Testament words for “confession” is the Greek word, “homologia.” The word means literally to “say the same thing.” When we confess our sins we say the same thing that the Lord is saying about us, for he says, “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” (Rom. 3:23). Even our righteousness is as “filthy rags” in his sight (Isa. 64:6).
But in 1 John 1:9-10 we read: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.” In Proverbs 28:13, the Bible also says: “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.”
So, this is the first step in the new birth. We need to get real with ourselves, with others and with God and frankly admit what we are. We are just sinners.
WE MUST REPENT OF OUR SINS
The second step to the new birth is repentance. The biblical concept of repentance involves a profound change of one’s mind and direction. It has within it the idea of a turning away from the sinful and rebellious life we have been living and a turning to God and his way. When Jesus began to preach, he proclaimed: “…Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matt. 4:17). When Paul preached to the Gentiles he said of God: “… now he commands all people everywhere to repent “ (Acts 17:30).
This repentance must be sincere and it will likely be accompanied by tears of remorse. It seems today that repentance for many is a rather light and casual thing. As one old pastor said, “A lot of our repentance needs to be repented of!”
Repentance often involves the matter of restitution of past wrongs. We remember the story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19:8-9. When he met the Master he said: “‘Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to
WE MUST BELIEVE IN JESUS AS LORD AND SAVIOR
The third step toward new birth is belief. This belief must be placed in Jesus and in him alone. Our belief must be sincere and of a saving kind. It cannot just be a mental thing, but it involves the whole life. In James 2:19, we are warned about having only a mental belief: “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.”
The Bible calls this saving belief “faith.” We see that without this faith it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6). It is also impossible to be born again without it. In Ephesians 2:8-9 we read: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” So we see that God through his mercy even helps us with our faith so that we can believe the Gospel. In 1 John 5:1 we see that belief is essential to the new birth. We read: “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God….”
Long ago a very repentant keeper of the prison asked Paul and Silas what he had to do to be saved. They said to him: “…Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household” (Acts 16:31). He believed, washed the wounds of these so-called criminals. He then brought them to his own house and fed them. He and his whole family were baptized that very night. That is biblical faith. It radically changes everything and sets us on the road to heaven.
WE MUST MAKE IT PUBLIC
The great evangelist Billy Graham has often said that everyone God calls, he calls publicly. We have to confess Jesus with our mouths as well as with our lives. The Bible speaks about this in Romans 10:9-10 saying: “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” We see by this that we cannot continue to be secret disciples. We must come out in the open with our faith, regardless of the consequences.
WE MUST FOLLOW THE LORD IN OBEDIENCE
What good is all the above if we do not follow the Lord and obey him? Such a thing would mean that our new birth was not complete. From the scripture we see that the usual first act of obedience was baptism. We mentioned earlier the jailer who was baptized the very night of his conversion (Acts 16:33). Actually the hour had to be sometime after midnight. He wasted no time in following the Lord.
Baptism is very important in the whole process of our salvation. In Acts 2:38, Peter instructed the people: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Just as in a natural birth, the new spiritual baby is delivered through water. The new baby is also delivered through the Spirit (Jn. 3:5). The earliest Christians considered baptism as a washing away of the old sinful life or a burying of that old person (Tit. 3:5; Acts 22:16; Rom. 6:1-4). The command to be baptized is likely the first command Jesus will give to a new believer today.
It is precisely in this whole area of obedience that some people falter. Just as there can be problems in a natural birth process, there also can be problems in spiritual birth. People can conceive by the word of God and still not deliver. They can bring about a spiritual miscarriage. This is clearly illustrated in the parable of the sower in Matthew 13:3-9. Some seed sown started to germinate but later died because of the soil’s shallowness. This is likely the problem for many who are joining the church today and yet fail to grow and mature or show any signs of regeneration. They have been conceived by the word of God but not born again. So the simple but tragic fact is that many churches today are filled with people who have not experienced the new birth.
Just as in the case of a newborn infant, the newborn saint needs immediate care for a prolonged period. This is hopefully where the real church will come in. As newborn Christians, we desperately need the fellowship of other Christians that is found in the church (Heb. 10:25). It is unrealistic to think that a person can be born again and continually spurn the fellowship of other born again brothers and sisters.
With these few but sincere steps, we enter the Kingdom of God by the process known in scripture as the new birth. It is a birth totally brought about by God’s Holy Spirit.
– Jim Gerrish
Publication date, 2003