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. 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 totally bad. Some will even say that the flesh is all bad except for some small part that is capable of calling out to God. Although it sounds close to the truth, 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. Key passages that show the distinction between new birth and either salvation or eternal life, are John 1:12-13; John 3:5,15; 1 Pet. 1:2; and 2 Thess. 2:13. In the following table, passages that deal with new birth and salvation are listed. Notice that certain themes emerge. When new birth is the subject, we find that the will of God is at work, through the Spirit and Word of God, to impart life. When salvation is the subject, we find that man's responsibility is involved, and the necessity of believing the truth of the gospel.
|"Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." (John 1:13)||"I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture." (John 10:9)|
|"Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." (John 3:3)||"And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house." (Acts 16:31)|
|"Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." (John 3:5)||"For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek." (Rom. 1:16)|
|"Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ..." (Eph. 2:5)||"That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved." (Rom. 10:9)|
|"And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses" (Col .2:13)||"In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise." (Eph. 1:13)|
|"Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures." (James 1:18)||"For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God." (Eph. 2:8)|
|"Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever." (1 Pet. 1:23)||"Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth." (1 Tim. 2:4)|