The new birth is one of the most exciting doctrines of Christianity, but exactly what does it mean, how does a person get it, and what happens after they receive it?
We hear Jesus' teaching on the new birth when he was visited by Nicodemus, a member of the Sanhedrin, or ruling council of ancient Israel. Afraid of being seen, Nicodemus came to Jesus in the night, seeking the truth. What Jesus told him applies to us as well:
"In reply Jesus declared, 'I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.'" (John 3:3, NIV)
Despite his great learning, Nicodemus was confused. Jesus explained that he was not talking about a physical new birth, but a spiritual rebirth:
"Jesus answered, 'I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.'" (John 3:5-6, NIV)
Before we are born again, we are walking corpses, spiritually dead. We are alive physically, and from outward appearances, nothing seems wrong with us. But inside we are creatures of sin, dominated and controlled by it.
New Birth Is Given to Us by God
Just as we can't give physical birth to ourselves, we can't accomplish this spiritual birth by ourselves, either. God gives it, but through faith in Christ we can request it:
"In his great mercy he (God the Father) has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you ..." (1 Peter 1:3-4, NIV)
Because God gives us this new birth, we know exactly where we stand. That's what is so exciting about Christianity. We don't have to struggle for our salvation, wondering whether we have said enough prayers or done enough good deeds. Christ did it for us, and it is complete.
New Birth Causes Total Transformation
New birth is another term for regeneration. Before salvation, we are degenerate:
"As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins ... " (Ephesians 2:1, NIV)
After the new birth, our regeneration is so complete it can be described as nothing less than a totally new life in the spirit. The Apostle Paul puts it this way:
"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" (2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV)
That's a shocking change. Again, we look the same on the outside, but inside our sinful nature has been fully replaced with a new person, a being who stands righteous in the eyes of God the Father, because of the sacrifice of his son Jesus Christ.
New Birth Brings New Priorities
With our new nature comes an intense desire for Christ and the things of God. For the first time, we can fully appreciate Jesus' statement:
"'I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'" (John 14:6, NIV)
We know, with all our being, that Jesus is the truth we have been seeking all along. The more we get of him, the more we want. Our desire for him feels right. It feels natural. As we pursue an intimate relationship with Christ, we experience a love unlike any other.
As Christians, we still sin, but it becomes shameful to us because we now realize how much it offends God. With our new life, we develop new priorities. We want to please God out of love, not fear, and as members of his family, we want to fit in with our Father and our Brother Jesus.
When we become a new person in Christ, we also leave behind that suffocating burden of trying to earn our own salvation. We finally grasp what Jesus has done that for us:
"'Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.'" (John 8:32, NIV)
Jack Zavada, a career writer and contributor for About.com, is host to a Christian website for singles. Never married, Jack feels that the hard-won lessons he has learned may help other Christian singles make sense of their lives. His articles and ebooks offer great hope and encouragement. To contact him or for more information, visit Jack's Bio Page.