What does it mean to be born again? The Bible uses many metaphors for this spiritual reality, but the key word is “regeneration.” Before salvation, a sinner is spiritually dead and lifeless and disobedient (Ephesians 2:1-3). He cannot please God (Romans 8:7-8) nor seek God (Romans 3:10-12) nor come to Christ. He or she possesses what Ezekiel calls a “heart of stone.” In regeneration, the Holy Spirit breathes new life into a dead sinner and replaces their heart of stone with a heart of flesh. Jesus told us we must be born again in John 3.
Can we “born again” ourselves? Can we in our spiritual deadness make ourselves alive? Can we resurrect ourselves to new life? Emphatically no! Jesus even told us in John 3:6-8: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Flesh cannot give birth to flesh. In other words, we cannot do it.
Later in John 6:44 Jesus said these startling words, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” We cannot come to God unless we are drawn. Or enabled. We lack the moral and spiritual ability to come to Christ until God does an internal work of regeneration in our hearts.
At the moment of regeneration, the Holy Spirit makes us alive with Christ, frees us from slavery, and gives us two very important gifts. These gifts are repentance and faith. Since we are now a new creature in Christ and have been made alive and by grace been endowed with these gifts, we do two very crucial things. We repent of our sins and we trust in Christ alone for salvation. We are responsible to do these things, but before regeneration we could not. Not until we have a new heart.
This act of repenting of sin and turning in faith toward Christ is called conversion. Regeneration is the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit on the sinner. Conversion is the human response where we repent and trust because we’ve been enabled to do these by His grace alone. True salvation does not occur unless we have repented of our sins and have trusted Christ. These are not “decisions” we make, but sovereign actions of a gracious God who has mercy on dead sinners.
The true evidence of regeneration and conversion is that we have new affections, desires, attitudes, and priorities. Through the power of grace, we live a continual lifestyle of repenting, believing and obeying. Here’s the beauty: before regeneration we COULD NOT obey or please God in anything. We lacked the ability and the desire to do so. But in regeneration, we now long to obey and have the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit to move us to obey.
Ezekiel 36:26-27 says, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”
The sinfulness of sin finds its remedy in the sovereign regeneration of God who puts His Spirit within us to cause us to obey. A genuine Christian has repented of sins and trusted Christ and demonstrates evidence of obedience to God by living a life pleasing to Him. This does not mean perfection, but progression toward maturity in Christ knowing that we will never experience it in this lifetime.
If you have not been born again, cry out to the Lord to remove your heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh. Come to the point of utter desperation that you cannot contribute anything to your salvation because you are spiritually dead. Realize that it must be a divine supernatural act by a sovereign Savior alone, if you are ever to be saved.