Survey in Basic Christianity
Lesson 9
The New Birth

O.J. Gibson

“Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Jesus Christ spoke these solemn words to a Jewish religious teacher named Nicodemus, a Pharisee and a member of the Jewish ruling council. Nicodemus’ confidence about his relationship with God was probably like another Pharisee who wrote: “If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel…a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee…concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless” (Philippians 3:4-6). It is hard to imagine anyone more religious than Nicodemus. He was a moral, devoutly spiritual leader, called “the teacher of Israel” (John 3:10). It would be hard for anyone to match his zeal for religious matters. Yet, it was to this man Jesus said, “You must be born again” (John 3:7). If Nicodemus was not fit for the kingdom of God, who is?

Nicodemus called Jesus “Rabbi” and “a teacher come from God” (John 3:2), thinking Jesus was his equal – but not recognizing that Jesus is God. He met with Jesus and likely wanted to hear more about what Jesus taught. Nicodemus did not need a teacher – he needed a Savior. He did not need to be better – he needed to be born again.

Although Nicodemus was very religious, he was still “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). He was spiritually dead and had no personal relationship with God. He was born separated from God, and he needed to be born again. In this night-time meeting with Jesus, Nicodemus came face to face with God and was told, “You must be born again” (John 3:7). You may be religious. You may have gone to church your entire life. You may know about Jesus, but have you ever been born again?

What is Meant by Being Born Again?

Nicodemus, like so many people today, was confused about what is meant by being born again. “Nicodemus said to Him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?’” (John 3:4). Nicodemus was stuck on physical birth. Of course, it is impossible to be born a second time physically, but he did need to be born again spiritually.

Our need is for a new life from God, and this need began in the garden of Eden. When Adam and Eve sinned, they immediately experienced spiritual death. Remember that death always means separation. Their sin severed their relationship with God. Their sin also caused their offspring to be born spiritually dead since they inherited their parents’ sin nature. That pattern has continued to the present day.

We are born spiritually dead. We were born “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). We have to admit, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5). We are born separated from a relationship with God. We need a spiritual birth. We must be born again.

Another term that describes the new birth is regeneration, the act of God which imparts eternal life to those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). Jesus questioned why Nicodemus did not understand this as the teacher of Israel (John 3:10). The rebirth or regeneration of the nation of Israel was taught in the Old Testament (Ezekiel 36:26; 37:1-10; cf. Jeremiah 31:33). Nicodemus had not understood that regeneration is an event that must take place in an individual’s life to become a member of the family of God.

The new birth is a work of God in a person’s life that brings him into the family of God. We become children of God by receiving the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior, by believing in His name (John 1:12). When we do, that is the moment of our spiritual birth.

Being born again is a personal event. It is a new life, a new family relationship, a new power within. The Bible says we enter the kingdom of God as one who passes “from death into life” (John 5:24). We no longer walk in darkness but in the light (John 8:12). God delivers us from the kingdom of Satan to the kingdom of God’s dear Son (Colossians 1:13). We become “a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). That transformation is evident as we “put off the old man with his deeds” (Colossians 3:8-10) and “put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24). The conversion is remarkable.

Why Must the Old Man be Born Again?

The old man is who we are at birth – we are sinners by nature. The old man is who we are as we live sinful lives – we are sinners by practice. And the old man is who we are before new life from God is given to us – we are spiritually dead. The following describes the old man.

1. He is Corrupt
He is born with a sin nature (Psalm 51:5; 58:3; Romans 3:10, 23; cf. Genesis 8:21). He has a deceitful heart (Jeremiah 17:9). Nothing good dwells in his sinful nature (Romans 7:18).

2. He is Dead in Sins
He is born spiritually dead, which means he has no relationship with God. The old man is alive to sin but lives with no vital relationship with God (Ephesians 2:1). By God’s standard, there is no spiritual life.

3. He is Controlled by Satan
He is born into the family of Satan, who is his father. He practices sin and fulfills Satan’s desires (John 8:44; Romans 1:24-32; Ephesians 2:2; 1 John 3:8). Satan is diabolical, so it is not surprising that sinners stoop to vile and wicked behavior.

4. He is an Enemy of God
By nature, he is born as an enemy of God (Romans 5:10). He has no hope and is without God in this world (Ephesians 2:12). Every child of God was in this condition before his new birth (Ephesians 2:3).

“Born of the Spirit”

A person cannot enter heaven by good deeds, joining religious organizations, or going through religious ceremonies. The only way to be accepted into God’s kingdom and enjoy a relationship with God is through the new birth. The following describes how a person is born again.

We were born physically. Your parents produced you after their kind – another human being – flesh produced flesh with no spiritual life at all. In order to have spiritual life, you must experience a spiritual birth. That is the work of the Holy Spirit of God. You must be “born of the Spirit” to enjoy a relationship with God (John 3:5-6, 8). Physical birth is not enough to get you into heaven. In fact, it disqualifies you from the start. The new birth is required, and it is the Spirit of God who produces spiritual life.

Where we read “water and the Spirit” (John 3:5), it likely means “water even the Spirit.” Water is used to illustrate the cleansing aspect of the Spirit’s work in regeneration. His work is described as “the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). If a person believes in Jesus for cleansing, He promises, “out of his heart will flow rivers of living water,” referring to the work of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life (John 7:38-39).

To be born again, a person first experiences the convicting work of the Holy Spirit, who shows him that he is a sinner in need of a Savior (John 16:8-11). Then the Spirit leads a person to faith in Christ, transforming him through the new birth (John 3:5-6, 8). The work of the Spirit of God in a believer produces spiritual fruit (Galatians 5:22-23; Ephesians 5:9-10).

What is man’s role in the new birth? As for human responsibility in regeneration, Jesus said to Nicodemus, “You must be born again” (John 3:7). Man’s responsibility is to “believe in Him” (John 3:15-16, 18). Belief is not simply intellectual assent or agreeing with a set of facts. Belief is the same thing as trust or faith. If Nicodemus put his faith or trust in Jesus Christ, he would be born again, and the Lord would give him eternal life. If you place your faith or trust in Jesus Christ as your Savior, you will be born again. God will give you eternal life.

How is A Person Born Again?

1. The Illustration of the Wind
Jesus said, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). Jesus spoke in the Greek language and used the word pneuma. This verse presents a wordplay that is not apparent in English. The word pneuma means both wind and Spirit. The work of the Spirit of God is like the wind – invisible, unpredictable, yet evident in its effects. The source of the wind is from God, and He controls it.

The new birth has its source in God (John 1:13). The Spirit works invisibly in the hearts of people, convicting them of sin (John 16:8), showing them their need for a Savior. He may be doing that in your life at this moment. The effects of His work are evident in the life of a person who has been born again. The sins he formerly loved he now hates. He now loves the Lord whom he had rejected. The transformation is profound. Just as no one can fully understand the impact of the wind, no one can fully comprehend the impact of the work of the Spirit of God in a person’s life. But the results are obvious.

2. The Illustration of the Bronze Serpent
Jesus said, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:14-15). The story of the Bronze Serpent addresses the sin issue. How can we be born again if we are still sinners?

In Numbers 21:4-9, the people of Israel began to speak against God and Moses. God punished them for their sin of rebellion by sending venomous serpents among the people. People died from the painful, fiery snake bites. Finally, the people admitted that they had sinned, and God provided a way for them to live and not die. God directed Moses to make a bronze serpent, put it on a pole, and lift it in the air for all to see. God told Moses that if the people looked to the bronze serpent, they would live. That look would demonstrate their faith in what God said. So Moses lifted up the bronze serpent in the wilderness, and God immediately healed everyone who looked at it. This simple act of trust in God’s word gave them life. What if they did not act in faith by looking at the bronze serpent? They would have died in the wilderness.

Jesus told Nicodemus that this Old Testament event pointed forward to when He, the Son of Man, would be “lifted up” like that serpent on the pole. Jesus was lifted up on the cross (John 12:32-33) to die for our sins. He died in our place, for our sins. Every person who, by faith, looks to Jesus for salvation will have eternal life (John 3:14-15). The new birth occurs by trusting alone in Jesus Christ as the One crucified for your sins. When you trust in Him, He gives you eternal life. What if a person knows these things but never personally trusts (believes, exercises faith) in Him? They will perish (John 3:15-18).

The illustration of the bronze serpent tells us how we can be born again. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Just as the Jews in the wilderness had to believe what God said and look at the bronze serpent lifted on the pole in the wilderness for their deliverance, so we must believe what God says and look to Jesus Christ who was lifted up on the cross for our salvation. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).

3. The Impact of the Word of God
The Bible is instrumental in the new birth (James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23). We hear the word of truth and believe it, resulting in salvation (Ephesians 1:13; cf. Romans 1:16; 10:17). It is the seed of salvation (Matthew 13:3-9, 18-23). The new birth comes when we genuinely believe God’s word and obey the gospel, that is, Jesus’ command to be born again.

What Are the Results of the New Birth?

Some of the life changes that occur when we are born again are immediately given to us by God. Other changes exist in “seed form” and develop over time as we grow in our Christian life (1 Peter 2:2-3).

Has the Spirit of God convicted you of your sins? Have you turned to Jesus Christ and looked to Him for deliverance? Have you recognized that, like Nicodemus, being religious is not the same as being born again? Have you believed in the Lord Jesus Christ and trusted in Him for your salvation? You must be born again (John 3:3, 7).

“If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Romans 10:9-10).

SBC Lesson 9 Study Guide
The New Birth

Jesus said that a person could not see the kingdom of God unless he is born again. Understanding this is crucial. Please answer these questions thoughtfully.

  1. Answer by circling True or False.
    1. One is born again by becoming a religious person. (True or False)
    2. The two illustrations of the new birth given by Jesus are the sea and the bronze serpent. (True or False)
    3. As long as one goes to the right church and is generally a good person, he will go to heaven. (True or False)
    4. Born again is a catchphrase to be applied mainly to a change in our religion. (True or False)
  2. Nicodemus first came to Jesus as (select one)
    1. A believer in God
    2. A moral person
    3. A religious teacher
    4. A person interested in Him
    5. All of the above
  3. Born again means (select one)
    1. Joining the church
    2. Changing your religion
    3. A new life from God
    4. A gradual spiritual transition
    5. Believing in God
  4. Paraphrase (rewrite in your own words) John 1:12-13.
  5. The old man must be born again because (select one)
    1. He is corrupt
    2. He is dead in sin
    3. Satan controls him
    4. He is an enemy of God
    5. All of the above
  6. What is the Holy Spirit’s role in the new birth (John 3:6-8; 16:7-11; Acts 2:37-38; Titus 3:5)?
  7. What is the role of the word of God in the new birth (Matthew 13:3-9, 18-23; Romans 10:17; Ephesians 1:13; 1 Peter 1:23)?
  8. What are some results of the new birth?
  9. What do you say? Explain the new birth in your own words.
  10. We want to encourage you to memorize God’s word. The suggested memory verse for this lesson is

Romans 10:9-10 (NKJV)

“If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”