The New Birth

Baptism

Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ Nicodemus said to Him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?’ Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, “You must be born again”’” (John 3:3-7).

When Jesus talked with Nicodemus, He told him about the need to be “born again.” Peter also used this type of language in his first epistle – being “born again” (1 Peter 1:3, 23). There is a reason why Jesus and the inspired apostle used this analogy – this new birth parallels physical birth.

Remember the stages of a child’s development:

  1. Conception – This is when a seed is implanted that has the ability to produce life.
  2. Development – After conception, there is a period of development before birth.
  3. Birth – After a period of development, the time comes for the birth.
  4. Growth – One cannot remain in an infant state; there must be continued growth after birth.

Let us notice the spiritual parallels in the new birth that we find in the Scriptures.

Conception

The seed that is implanted in the new birth is the word of God. Peter explained that we are “born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Peter 1:23). James encouraged his readers to “receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21). The words of Christ are able to lead us to eternal life (John 6:63, 68).

The word of God is implanted into our hearts through the preaching of the gospel. Jesus explained this in the parable of the sower. “The sower went out to sow his seed…the seed is the word of God” (Luke 8:5, 11). The seed of God’s word would be sown through the efforts of the apostles in carrying out the Great Commission: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15). This is why preaching is still important today. Paul wrote, “For ‘Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things’” (Romans 10:13-15). Contrary to what many believe, the Holy Spirit is not going to act upon our hearts apart from or contrary to the word of God. The word is the instrument used by the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17) and that word being implanted into one’s heart through hearing the gospel is the first step in this new birth.

Development

After the word is implanted in one’s heart, there is a period of development that must occur. The word of God must produce faith in order to bring about the new birth. Paul wrote, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing from the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). The word is the source of faith, but simply believing what the word says does not make one a Christian. John wrote, “But as many as received [Jesus], to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12). Believing in Christ puts one on the path that should lead to the new birth.

However, this development must include more than just belief – there must also be fruit that is produced. In describing the good heart in the parable of the sower, Jesus said, “But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance” (Luke 8:15). The fruit that is borne is repentance (Matthew 3:8) – a change of life. So the word of God must be implanted in one’s heart and produce faith and repentance before the new birth can take place.

Birth

The new birth occurs when one is baptized into Christ. Notice what Peter wrote: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Peter 1:3, 23). Paul described this process in his letter to the saints in Rome: “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4). The new life in Christ begins when one is born again, which corresponds to baptism.

Jesus referred to this as being “born of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5). In other words, one is born again when he is baptized in water in response to the Spirit-inspired word. In baptism one’s sins are forgiven (Acts 2:38; 22:16) and he becomes “a new creature” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

However, it is important to note that baptism cannot come before or without the steps of conception and development. Baptism itself is described as an act of faith (Colossians 2:12) and “an appeal to God” (1 Peter 3:21). If there is no faith or repentance that came in response to the word of God – if the conception and development are not there – then any act of “baptism” is not the new birth because there is no appeal made in faith for God to save. This means that infant baptism, baptism by coercion, or baptism for any other reason does not result in one being born again.

Growth

Just as an infant cannot remain in that state, one who is born again must continue to grow spiritually. The word of God is able to produce this growth. Peter wrote, “Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation” (1 Peter 2:2). The word of God provides nourishment for us (1 Timothy 4:6). Therefore, we must continue in His word (cf. John 8:31).

After undergoing the new birth and becoming a Christian, we must continue to “press on to maturity” (Hebrews 6:1). While it is good and necessary for a babe in Christ to depend upon the milk of the word, it is also necessary to grow and be able to partake of the “solid food” of God’s word (Hebrews 5:12-14). However, if we do not continue in His word, but instead “drift away from it” (Hebrews 2:1), we risk forfeiting that salvation we once had. Therefore, the Hebrew writer encouraged Christians to remain faithful: “But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul” (Hebrews 10:39).

An Example

This process of conception, development, birth, and growth is see in the example of the apostle Paul (known earlier as Saul).

  1. The word was implanted in his heart as he was informed who Jesus was: “And he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ And he said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting’” (Acts 9:4-5).
  2. He developed a belief in Christ and a spirit of repentance, evidenced by the fact that he called Jesus “Lord” and was praying and fasting after arriving in Damascus: “And he said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting… And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank. […] And the Lord said to [Ananias], ‘Get up and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying” (Acts 9:5, 9, 11).
  3. He was baptized into Christ: “And immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight, and he got up and was baptized” (Acts 9:18; cf. 22:16).
  4. He continued to grow in his new life in Christ: “And immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, ‘He is the Son of God.’ […] But Saul kept increasing in strength and confounding the Jews who lived at Damascus by proving that this Jesus is the Christ” (Acts 9:20, 22).

Paul explained to Timothy that he was an example of one who could be saved (1 Timothy 1:16). We can be saved just as Paul was – by hearing the word of God, believing in Christ, repenting of our sins, and being baptized into Christ, thus beginning a new life of continued growth in Christ. Everyone who wants to be saved must be born again. The invitation is always open to those who need to do so.


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Comments

  1. Wayne Teel says

    Excellent example and illustration of being born again. Thanks, Andy.