Strange though it may seem, each morally responsible person will experience two births or two deaths. Someone might raise the same question that Nicodemus asked: "How can these things be?" Jesus had just told him that "except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3).
Certainly, few people could deny that within the recesses of their hearts is a desire to find heaven as their eternal abode. And since Christ unmistakably taught that there is no entrance to the kingdom of God (or heaven) apart from being twice born, let us consider this second birth.
Christ's words immediately imply that what a man receives by way of his natural birth is not sufficient to qualify him for heaven. One may appear outwardly moral in his life—being clean in his speech and honest in his dealings with his fellow men. Yet, if he is honest with himself, he knows that he is not really what he ought to be. Deep down in his heart is the blackness of sin, which is disobedience and rebellion against God.
As we look at the requirements for holiness in God's Word, we all have to admit that we are helpless to justify ourselves before God on our own merit. Truly each person needs a new spirit, a new life, and a new birth to bring him into conformity to the will of God.
Many times, the new birth is grossly misunderstood and misinterpretecl. There are substitutes and counterfeits that must be discerned. The new birth is not a reformation. Romans 7:18, 19 describes a reformation with these words: "For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which l would not, that I do."
The new birth is not doing the best you can. God's view of our best is expressed in Isaiah 64:6: "All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags." The new birth is not simply turning over a new leaf.
Neither is it being baptized, joining a church, or doing good works. It is possible to do all of these and to remain as lost as before. These things are some of Satan's counterfeits for the genuine, and he would be happy to have us believe that any combination of these things is the new birth. To be sure, some of these things are definitely results of being born again, but the new birth is more than these.
What then is the new birth? Jesus said, "That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit" (John 3:6). Like begets like. When a child is born, a new life comes forth: yet that new being is flesh, just like his parents. So likewise, when one is born again of the Spirit of God, a new life in the Spirit comes forth. The new birth is simply the imparting of a new spirit or nature—even God's own nature—to the one who is begotten again. It is a work of God destroying the work of Satan in the heart and life of the believer in Jesus. As the sinful nature is crucified, Jesus Christ comes into the heart to live and reign there.
This experience is what is referred to in 1 Peter 1:23: "Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever," and Titus 3:5: "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost." It is further explained by the prophecy of Ezekiel 36:26,27: "A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them."
How is the new life brought about? It is by faith in Jesus Christ and His work on the cross. It does not come by anything we can do of ourselves. The most intense desire, the most trembling realization of one's sinfulness and need, or even the most fervent prayer in itself cannot bring it. The desire, the realization, and the prayer are necessary, but there must be more than these. There must be a yielding to God. There must be faith in the Lord Jesus Christ's sacrificial atonement on Calvary for the sin of each one. There must be acceptance of Him as one's Saviour, confession and forsaking of sin, and acceptance of His Word in obedience. There must be a perfect will to do God's will and a submission to Him in every respect, with no reservations. Thus as the heart becomes fertile soil, receiving the seed of God's Word, the Spirit can quicken the Seed, making it spring forth into a new life of divine nature.
In receiving this nature. one passes from spiritual darkness to spiritual light, from spiritual death to spiritual life. It is a change from serving Satan to serving God. In fact, it provides admittance into God's family, making the person His child and heir. As a child of God, the whole nature, object, and desire of life is changed. Although the flesh with its natural inclinations still exists, the new life has the desire to overcome all the sinful inclinations, and it can do so through the power of the Spirit dwelling within.
Such an important event will have an effect upon the life . "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" (2 Corinthians 5:17). Life has a different meaning. While lawful pleasures and the natural desires of the body can be enjoyed in God's appointed way, yet the glory of God, the advancement of the kingdom, and the good of one's fellow men are of first importance. No longer is the advancement of self the goal. Many things formerly loved are now detested. And things once unattractive are now loved. There is a desire to do God's will, to follow His plan for life, and to keep His commandments. There is a love for the brethren and a concern for the salvation of all men. Opportunities for doing good to all men are eagerly taken. Bible reading, prayer, and worship have become a delight.
What privileges belong to the members of God's family! As the apostle Paul said in Galatians 2:20: "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me."
But what then is the fate of those who fail to receive the new birth from God and fail to obey His Word? Revelation 20 reveals the events of a future time. Pictured there is an assembly of the dead, small and great, standing before God. The books were opened, wherein were recorded the deeds of every man. And each man was judged by the things written in those books. The book of life was also opened. Then the chapter closes with the words: "And death and hell [Hades] were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire."
Among whom will you stand—among those twice born? or among those twice dead? Remember, friend, where you stand will be because of the choice you make in time. We are living yet in a day of grace and opportunity when you may change your choice.
And remember two more things. First, we have no promise of tomorrow. Second, the events of the future time mentioned above could begin at any moment. Eternal destinies will then be sealed forever! But now is the time to allow God to make you a new creature through the new birth!