New Birth. New birth refers to the sovereign action of God to impart spiritual life to a person where there was none before. Jesus taught on the subject of New Birth extensively in John 3. The Lord makes the following arguments:
- (vv.1-3) Man needs new birth in order to ever see (or perceive) the things of God. Without new birth man is totally helpless.
- (vv.4-6) The New Birth is caused by a sovereign action of the Spirit of God, using the Word of God.
- (vv.7-10) The subject of New Birth is not unique to Christianity, in fact Israel as a nation is in need of New Birth, and the prophets speak of the day when Israel will be born again!
- (vv.11-13) The Father and the Son desire believers to have something more than New Birth. New Birth is an earthly thing, but it is God’s desire to tell us of heavenly things; specifically Eternal Life. Eternal life is a higher and greater thing than New Birth!
- (vv.14-17) The cross is God’s provision for man’s salvation, and the required cost that we might have Eternal Life.
The expression “born anew” does not mean “a fresh start”. Nicodemus brought that up, contemplating entering into his mother’s womb to be born a second time. If that were possible, it would be another fallen human life, no different than the one he had. Rather, new birth is “new” in that it comes from a wholly new and different origin. It is life from God.
Quickening vs. New Birth. New birth and quickening mean essentially the same thing; God imparts divine life where there was none before. However, quickening is always juxtaposed with spiritual death, and new birth is juxtaposed with the corruption of the old nature. Man in his natural state is so dark that he needs a new nature with new desires.
New Birth and Salvation. New Birth is not synonymous with Salvation! Many Christians today are not clear on this distinction. They do not see the difference between new birth and salvation or they believe that new birth occurs at the same time as salvation. Not seeing the difference leads to the belief that a person is born again by choosing to believe the Gospel. On the contrary, John 1:13 teaches that new birth is a sovereign action of God, uncalled for and perhaps even unwanted by the sinner. To teach that man in the flesh has the faculty to choose God is to hold that the flesh is not all bad. Some believe the flesh is completely bad except for some small part that is capable of calling out to God. It sounds close to the truth, but it is really a denial of the utter ruin of the flesh, which the Bible teaches:
- The flesh will never produce fruit for God (Romans 8:7-8).
- The flesh cannot improve itself (John 3:6).
- The flesh cannot “invite” new birth (John 1:13).
- The flesh has been categorically condemned by God (Romans 8:3).
The denial of man’s lost condition (i.e. that his fallen nature is predisposed to sin) leads to the assertion that man has a free-will, that he is a free moral agent. This is fundamentally opposed to the scriptural truth of God’s sovereign election, and to the truth of new birth. Ultimately free-will doctrine gives man some credit for his own salvation, rather than attribute it all to the grace of God.
New birth is the moral prerequisite to salvation. Without a new life, man cannot believe God. Faith is a gift from God (Eph. 2:8), not inherent to the fallen human nature. Faith is required for justification (Rom. 5:1). A believer in the New Testament is not saved until they have believed the gospel of the grace of God. Believing the gospel is required before the sealing of the Spirit can occur (Eph. 1:13). Sometimes days, months, or even years can pass between the time when someone is quickened and when they are sealed. A person who has been quickened but not sealed could hardly be called “saved”, because they do not have peace with God, nor do they enjoy deliverance from sin. We get a clear example of this in Acts 10. Those in the house of Cornelius feared God, indicating that they were born again, but they knew nothing of Jesus. Peter preached to them the gospel of the grace of God, and “While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word” (Acts 10:44). The new nature in these ones responded to the truth of gospel, and without any kind of sinner’s prayer, they were sealed with the Holy Spirit.
Laying hold of the distinction between new birth and salvation is very important because it sheds light on the work of God in the salvation of lost souls. We find the truth of it all through scripture;
|John 3:5, 15||“Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”||“That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.”|
|John 1:12-13||“Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”||“as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, to them that believe on his name.”|
|1 Pet. 1:2||“Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit,”||“unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.”|
|2 Thess. 2:13||“God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit“||“and belief of the truth.”|