God's Good News for broken humanity concerns the coming of the Kingdom of God. In the new age of the Kingdom, God gathers a people to be with him for eternity. He blesses them with his presence and rules them with love. He does this through the indwelling Spirit of Christ. Right now we can share in the blessings of the Kingdom which are ours through the present work of the Spirit. The first of the seven-fold works of the Spirit is Regeneration.
Regeneration is the renewing work of God in our lives which gives us a new spiritual life and so changes our whole attitude toward God, each other and ourselves.
One night, early in Jesus' ministry, he was approached by a Pharisee called Nicodemus. This man probably wanted to know what Jesus had to say about entering the Kingdom of God. Yet before he could ask any questions Jesus said, "Unless you are born again you can't even see the Kingdom of God."
"How is it possible to undergo such a change" replied Nicodemus, "You would have to enter again into your mother's womb."
"Entry into the Kingdom of God" said Jesus, "obviously requires the natural physical birth that we all go through, but it also requires a spiritual birth. You must be born of the Spirit. You will be able to experience the Spirit's life-giving power at work in you, but you can't comprehend it or predict it."
"How can this happen to a person?" Nicodemus enquired.
"Simply by putting your trust in me, I give my life that you might live." John 3:1-15, adapted.
The clearest verse in the Bible comes from Titus 3:5-7. "He saved us through the washing of rebirth/regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs, having the hope of eternal life."
Many other verses refer to this miraculous work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. It is usually described as "being born again," "given birth - or new life", John 1:13, 3:3-8, 1 Peter 1:23, 1 John 2:29...."created", Eph.2:10, Col.3:10. The end result is that we are a "new creation", 2 Cor.5:17, Gal.6:15.
It is really impossible to describe in detail what the Spirit of God actually does to our person to make us a new creation.
He certainly doesn't do a re-programme job on our mind, somehow making us a different person. Nor does he go to work on us so that we end up perfect and incapable of sin.
What we can say is that there is a radical change worked in our lives which gives us a completely different outlook toward God. We may still go against Him, we may even go off the rails for many years, but in the end we just have to bow before him. The change is probably instantaneous.
Some may be aware of the change in a conversion experience, while others will only be gradually aware of it.
Our old nature is under what the Bible calls "the power of sin" which controls us and drives us to rebel against God. In this state we are described as unregenerate, a sinner - our end can only be death. Regeneration begins when our old self, our unregenerate nature, is put to death - done away with. The Bible actually describes this as being crucified with Christ. We are united with Jesus in his death and so our old self is crucified with him and buried with him. This process involves the following:
i] Freed from the curse of sin. Jesus' death on our behalf frees us from the condemnation of sin and therefore the judgement of God.
ii] No longer under the demands of the law. Although we still use the law as a guide to the Christian life, we are no longer under its demands as a means of gaining God's approval, for Jesus has obeyed the law on our behalf and so gained for us God's approval. Freed from the law's demands, sin no longer has power over us, for the law, although good, serves to activate sin within us. Thus the power of sin in our lives is rendered powerless. Romans 6:1-14, Gal.5:24, 6:14.
In place of "the power of sin" we receive "the power of Jesus' resurrection". We receive new life and so find ourselves alive to God, able to know him and live for him. The Bible describes this as being raised with Christ. We are united with Jesus in his resurrection and so new life is created in us by the power of the risen Christ's intimate involvement in our lives. We then have the power to live for God. We are "compelled" by the Spirit's indwelling presence in our lives. His all-pervading love drives us to love. Little by little we are changed. Our life-style begins to be renewed through the indwelling power of our risen Lord. Romans 6:1-14, Gal.2:20. Of course, remember, the old sinful self still has its say. We are not perfect, and never will be until the day of resurrection.
Are we born again when we respond to the gospel or is rebirth necessary before we can respond to the gospel? i.e. Is it our decision to seek after God that prompts him to renew our lives, or is it necessary for him to renew us before we are able to seek after him? Are we made new because we responded to God, or because God willed it (and that's why we responded)? This is probably one of the greatest mysteries in the Bible and causes numerous hot debates. The Christian church is divided on the issue of whether God chooses us or we choose God. It is probably best for us to know both points of view. In fact, some believers hold both points as true.
On the one hand the Bible seems to say that God's Word is the means of generating or implanting new life, James 1:18, 1 Peter 1:23. We hear God's call to us as someone explains the gospel, we are then attracted to Christ and seek after Him. We then repent and experience conversion. The Holy Spirit then generates new life within us, and as a result, a strong desire to follow Christ develops. I personally think this is the more likely process. It doesn't interfere with God's sovereignty. He chooses and provides the means of salvation; who are we to argue?
On the other hand the Bible often seems to say that the New Birth comes before we hear the gospel, because this is the only way we are able to respond to it, John 6:64,65, Acts 16:14, 1 Cor.2:12-15, Eph.1:17-20. So before we even hear the gospel, the Holy Spirit has been at work in us. On hearing it, we just have to respond. This may explain why many Christians can't pinpoint the time they decided to follow Jesus. As long as they can remember, he has always been their Lord. They may be the product of Christian parents whose faithfulness was rewarded by the blessing of born again/regenerate children. It may even be possible in the mother's womb for a child to be "born again", e.g. John the Baptist.
You must not be too worried about this problem. The Bible is clear - if you want Jesus' friendship .... "ask" .... and it will be given to you .... for eternity. After you're his friend you can then try to work out when you were actually "born again".
The Bible is quite clear on this point. All of us are by nature dead and without hope, Eph.2:1, Rom.6:11. We have no hope of having God as our friend unless life is restored in us, Heb.12:14. We can't get to heaven unless we are born anew, John 3:3, 1 Cor.2:14, Gal.6:15.
The Bible says that the Holy Spirit is exclusively responsible for our rebirth, Ezk.11:19, John 1:13, Acts 16:14, Rom.9:16, Phil.2:13.
On turning to Jesus, the Holy Spirit works a radical change in our lives. On the basis of Jesus' death and resurrection on our behalf, our old sinful self is rendered powerless and a new life alive to God is created within us. This process is called regeneration. The new life within us is made possible through the indwelling Spirit of Christ whose resurrection power gives life to our mortal body.
The Bible promises us that when we put our trust in Jesus he becomes intimately involved in our lives and his life-giving resurrection power regenerates, enlivens, our very being. The practical effect of rebirth is a renewed life-style. That new life-style becomes a reality as we look to Jesus to mould us in his image. Over the next week try to trust Jesus to do what he has promised. Look to him and believe that he will begin, little by little, to change you. Begin to expect him to do what he has promised.