One of the weirdest statements of Jesus came in the middle of the night when he spoke with a man named Nicodemus, when He said, “Unless someone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” This concept confused Nicodemus, and, in all honesty, still confuses most of us today. So let’s see what the Bible says about it by exploring a concept called regeneration.
The Bible is pretty clear that human beings are something special. We are called His image bearers and charged to serve as stewards and cultivators of His creation. But we went and ruined everything by sinning against God—denying His goodness and authority, choosing to go our own way instead of faithfully following Him.
God doesn’t shy away from describing the ugliness of humanity’s spiritual condition in a post-fall world. “Corrupt,” “haters of God,” “lovers of darkness,” “inventors of evil,” “children under wrath,” and “dead in your trespasses and sins” are among the more intense descriptions (John 3:19; Rom. 1:29-31; Eph. 2:1-3). These definitely don’t give the impression that God is pleased with our sin. (He isn’t.) Nor do they give the impression that we’re particularly inclined to obey God. (We aren’t.) Instead, the impression they give is that we are all in big trouble. (We are.)
So how do we get out of the trouble we’re in? Our natural instincts tell us that we need to change ourselves. To be better people who behave differently, who try harder to be more moral, kind, and virtuous. But the Bible gives a different answer, a better answer: Instead of trying to be better people, we need to be new people.
And that, essentially, is what regeneration is all about. The Bible uses several terms to describe it including “regeneration and renewal” (Titus 3:5), being made alive in Christ (Eph. 2:4-5; Col. 2:13), and, of course, to be born again (John 3:3-8; 1 Pet. 1:3,23; cf. 1 John 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1-4,18). All of these phrases describe a supernatural work of God—a heart change brought about by the Holy Spirit as a result of conviction of sin. A heart change to which we respond in repentance and faith.