That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit (ESV).
Our subject is the work of the Holy Spirit in our regeneration or new birth from above. In this great action, he acts to renew us, so that we have a close relationship or friendship with the Holy God. In regeneration, the Holy Spirit conveys an image or likeness of the Begetter to the begotten (Colossians 3:10). As the first Adam begat a son in his image (Genesis 5:3), so by the Spirit the last Adam begets sons for God that bear his image (1 Corinthians 15:49). This image or likeness to God lies in two things:
- It is conformity of spirit to God’s, which means a radical break from the rule of sin to the government of holiness or being set apart to God (Romans 6:17-18; cf. 1 Peter 1:15-16). This involves love (Romans 13:9-10; 1 Thessalonians 4:9) at the core. This is what caught the attention of the world as they looked at the early church. They said, “Look how they love one another!” To participate in my college’s athletic program, every team member had to read Schaeffer’s The Mark of the Christian and then sign a statement that they had carefully read it. God’s love ought to permeate our interactions with fellow Christians and reach out to those we seek to see become Christ’s followers.
- It is having God’s glory set up in our hearts as our ultimate purpose, and as the measure of all our attitudes, affections and actions.
This image or likeness to God is what is meant by Peter’s statement (2 Peter 1:3-4). The regenerated inner person of the heart now has a disposition to seek God and righteousness as the unregenerate person sought sin and darkness. Have you found an attitude in your heart to seek holiness and the glory of God?
How does the Holy Spirit do this? He directly acts on the inner person of the heart. Frankly, the Holy Spirit does not tell us much about exactly how he produces new spiritual life. There is mystery here. All we can say is that he is the efficient cause. He produces spiritual life in the heart of a person dead in sin. “The Spirit gives birth to spirit” (3:6). “So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (3:8).
The Spirit of God uses the Holy Scriptures to create new life. The word functions like seed in the heart (1 Peter 1:23). The Spirit adds his power to the living word of God and produces life. This is a deliberate action of God. He gives new life through the word of God because he has chosen to so act (James 1:18).
What happens when the Holy Spirit causes us to be born again?
- He gives a new heart (inner person) and life. Ezekiel 36:26-27; Jeremiah 24:7; Ephesians 2:5-10
- He gives the gifts of repentance and faith (Acts 16:14). Repentance is a gift of God (Ac 5:31; 11:18; 2 Tim 2:25-26) and so is faith (Acts 13:48; 18:27; Ephesians 2:8-9; Philippians 1:29; 1 Timothy 1:14; 2 Peter 1:1). As Spurgeon said, “No Christian can lay his hand on his heart and say, ‘I believed in Christ without the help of the Holy Spirit.’”
- He breaks the power of sin (Deuteronomy 30:6; cf. 29:4; Colossians 2:11; Romans 8:9; 6:22; Acts 26:18).
- He opens our hearts to Christ and his glory (Acts 16:14; 2 Corinthians 4:6; Matthew 16:16-17; Ephesians 4:20-21; cf. Philippians 3:3ff).
The good result is that former rebels against God become his submissive, humble, trusting children. We live in newness of life.
Grace and peace, David