In John 3, Jesus is telling us about our condition – telling us that something must happen to us if we are to see and then enter the kingdom of God. In the same gospel, our Lord tells us that “we must cross over from death to life” (John 5:24), and that none can even come to Him unless the Father not only draw them (6:44), but also enables them to come to Him (6:65). It is clear in John 3:3-8, that “flesh gives birth to flesh, but Spirit gives birth to spirit.” Looking at John chapter one, we see that “we are born not of natural descent, nor of a human decision or a husband’s will, but [we are] born of God (John 1:13).” We often quote the first part of the verse, “to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,” and we then interpret this to mean, that unless we first choose God we cannot be saved. But the very next clause tells us just the opposite, namely, “we are born not of natural descent, nor of a human decision or a husband’s will, but [we are] born of God.” Kim Riddlebarger explains this teaching further:
Many Evangelicals identify themselves as “born again” Christians. And indeed, as our Lord expressly states in John 3:3-7, “unless one is born again,” they cannot see, much less enter into the kingdom of God.” What then, does it mean to be “born again?” Historic Protestants, both the Lutherans and Reformed, have not placed the notion of being “born again” at the center of the Christian faith in the way in which many of our Evangelical contemporaries do. The reason for this is not because Lutheran and Reformed Christians reject the idea of being “born again.” Instead, they equate John’s teaching on being born again with the larger Biblical category of “regeneration.” That is, being “born again,” is a synonym for being “regenerate,” or “being made alive,” and therefore, while an essential aspect of the Christian life, it is approached from the perspective that regeneration is something God does, not man.
Another reason historic Protestants have not stressed being “born again,” is because regeneration is an act of God upon the sinner, whereas the New Testament, on the other hand, stresses that the Gospel is something that God has done for us in Christ outside of ourselves, and that the Gospel alone – the message that Christ died and rose again for sinners (1 Corinthians 15:1-8) – is the power of God unto salvation. It is through preaching the Gospel, the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ for sinners, that God gives the new birth, or causes one to be “born again,” to use John’s phrase. The new birth, it is important to note, does not come through preaching the new birth, it comes through the preaching of Christ crucified!
If being “born again” or “regenerated” is an essential aspect of the Christian faith, what exactly do we mean by the term? The noted Reformed theologian Louis Berkhof, defines regeneration as “a work in which man is purely passive, and in which there is no place for human co-operation….The creative work of God produces new life, in virtue of which man, made alive with Christ, shares the resurrection life, and can be called a new creature.” Indeed, no one will ever see heaven if they are not regenerate or “born again.” (“What the Scriptures say about Sola Gratia”)
Filed under: Bible, Christianity, Church, Church Leadership, Grace, Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ | Tagged: born again, Christ, Christian, Christianity, God, Jesus, John 3, Louis Berkhof, New Testament, Sola gratia | Comments Off