What Does It Mean To Be Born Again? (Part 1)

One of the most amazing experiences in life is to hold a new born baby. To see for the first time the tiny features and witness the child breathing for itself brings to anxious parents overwhelming feelings of thankfulness and relief. Appreciating that miracle of birth extends much further, embracing family, friends, acquaintances and even strangers who admire the new-born child. Such is the wonder of human birth.

Kelly Sikkema 1163910 Unsplash

The biblical concept of the ‘new birth’ is just as miraculous and even more wonderful. In a conversation with a Jewish leader called Nicodemus, the Lord Jesus explained what it meant to be born again, using natural birth as an illustration. We can see the following parallels:

Just as natural birth is the beginning of physical life, so the new birth is the beginning of eternal life.

Natural birth brings a baby into a human family just as new birth brings an individual into the family of God.

The new birth is based on receiving and believing on the Lord Jesus Christ: ‘as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not . . . of the will of man, but of God’ (John 1:12,13).

To examine this vital doctrine, let us look at several scriptures:

  • The Old Testament prophet Ezekiel recorded God’s words to Israel: ‘I will put My Spirit within you’ (Ezekiel 36:27). Here we see God’s principle in regeneration.
  • The Lord Jesus told Nicodemus, who was learning about the new birth, ‘You must be born again’ (John 3:7).
  • The phrase, ‘washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit’ (Titus 3:5), emphasises the basis of salvation.
  • Ephesians 2 demonstrates practical results of being made alive to God.

Some important personal applications may be drawn from these references.

Principles from the Old Testament Prophet Ezekiel:

Ezekiel 36:23-28

Lessons about new birth, regeneration, and being ‘made alive’ may be gleaned from God’s Old Testament dealings with His people, Israel. Although distinct from His work with men and women today, these lessons help us understand the way God gives spiritual life. One great example is Ezekiel’s prophecy of Israel’s future restoration.

in Ezekiel 37, the prophet received a vision of scattered dry bones. Miraculously, they were brought together, covered with flesh, and had life breathed into them. What a dramatic picture!  This prediction of Israel’s coming national revival, made possible by God’s will and power, tells of something dead being brought to life and made useful for God. This is how the Lord explains His great act of regeneration:

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them (Ezekiel 36:25-27).

God’s promised regeneration of the nation includes three elements:

Cleansing

To be acceptable to a holy God, Israel’s ‘filthiness’ (its idolatry, anything replacing God in the people’s affections) had to be dealt with. God therefore will cleanse His people.

The giving of a new heart

A heart set on selfish desires and ambitions is naturally hardened towards God, unresponsive to His love and care. A new heart, however, is soft and sensitive.

The putting of God’s Spirit within

This is the ultimate ‘giving of life’. In Ezekiel’s vision of bones reassembled and fleshed, ‘breath came into them, and they lived’ (Ezekiel 37:10). They received spiritual life directly from God.

The outcome for Israel is predicted by God Himself: ‘you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; you shall be My people, and I will be your God’ (Ezekiel 36:28). Not only will God deal with their sins, He will fit them to serve and honour Him through having His Spirit dwelling within them. This is all in the future for the nation.