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John 3:1–3

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (v. 3).

The wisdom of God displayed in the crucifixion of Christ cannot be received by the natural or unspiritual person. We can come to believe it only through the work of the Holy Spirit, as Paul has told us throughout 1 Corinthians 2. The work of the Spirit to give us new hearts that are able to believe God’s revelation and trust in the Christ of the gospel is also known as the act of regeneration. We will now take a break from our studies in 1 Corinthians to consider what the Bible as a whole has to say about regeneration. Dr. R.C. Sproul’s teaching series Born Again will guide us.

We may not hear the word regeneration all that often in common discourse, but that does not mean we hear no talk of regeneration. Another phrase associated with the concept became quite familiar even to secular people in the 1970s with the election of Jimmy Carter, a self-professed “born-again Christian,” as president of the United States. Even today, it is easy to find bumper stickers, billboards, tracts, and other materials featuring the question, “Have you been born again?” Regeneration deals with the issue of what it means to be “born again.” In fact, the English word regeneration comes into the language from two Greek words that can be rendered “born again.”

Importantly, every Christian church has some doctrine of regeneration because it is almost impossible to miss Jesus’ mandate that we be “born again.” Christ insists on this in His well-known meeting with Nicodemus, which is recorded in John 3:1–21. There, Jesus tells Nicodemus unequivocally that “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (v. 3). We can see from this text that regeneration is required to become a citizen of the Lord’s kingdom and an heir of eternal life. Other texts, such as Ezekiel 11:19–20, point us to our need of having our hearts of stone, set against God, replaced with hearts of flesh that love our Creator.

Regeneration, the new birth, is not optional. Pharisees such as Nicodemus found this concept difficult because many of them believed they were part of God’s kingdom simply because they were physical descendants of Abraham. They were wrong. Mere physical descent does not avail for salvation. The Holy Spirit must change our hearts so that we can become children of God (John 3:5–8; 8:31–59).

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

The phrase born-again Christian is redundant. After all, if regeneration is required to be a citizen of God’s kingdom, there is no such thing as a Christian who is not born again. Sadly, however, many people are counting on their birth to Christian parents or on being a church member to secure their salvation. Neither will suffice. Let us not put our confidence for salvation in such things but instead let us trust in Jesus.

For Further Study
  • Psalm 51:1
  • Ezekiel 36:26
  • 1 Peter 1:3–5
  • 1 John 3:1–10

Possessing the Mind of Christ

The Mystery of Regeneration

Keep Reading The State of Theology

From the January 2021 Issue
Jan 2021 Issue