“Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God’ ” (John 3:3).
OBEYING THE GOSPEL INVOLVES THE DEEPEST CHANGE POSSIBLE IN A HUMAN BEING’S HEART. Dying to sin and living “in newness of life” (Romans 6:4) is more than adopting a different religious affiliation, accepting a different set of beliefs, or attending services at a different church. It is becoming a different person. Jesus said, “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
In John 3:5, Jesus was more specific: “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” What does this mean? It means, first, that the act of baptism (immersion in water) precedes our entrance into God’s kingdom. But born of water, we are also born of the Spirit. At baptism, the Christian begins learning to lay aside his self-will and yield himself to the direction of God’s Spirit. This guidance is available for us today in the Scriptures that were revealed by the Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16,17).
Paul wrote that God has saved us “by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). Again we see the “water” and the “Spirit” of which Jesus spoke in John 3:5. Beginning with the remission of our sins at baptism, a strong renewal takes place. As we learn more of God’s will, we begin to be led, directed, and governed by God’s Spirit. And as we obey God’s command to “walk in the Spirit,” the “works of the flesh” begin to be replaced by the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16–26).
As you can see, being born again involves something that happens to us (the remission of our sins) and also something we do (live a new life). By His grace God has forgiven us, and He will help us obey Him, but to remain in the kingdom we must accept the rule of the King. As Paul said, “The Spirit has given us life; he must also control our lives” (Galatians 5:25 Good News Bible).
If the problem of sin is to be corrected, radical surgery must be done. The gospel does not deal in superficial solutions. According to Jesus, it is not just our dysfunctional behavior that needs fixing — it is us. It is in the deepest depths of our hearts that we need to change. We must, in fact, die and become new people altogether.
“[Being born again] is a foundational fact. The characteristic of the new birth is that I yield myself so completely to God that Christ is formed in me” (Oswald Chambers).