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You Must Be Born Again

Tom Pennington • Selected Scriptures

  • 2022-05-08 AM
  • Sermons


Last Sunday, we were studying in the book of 1 John. And believe it or not (you don't need to turn there because we're not going there this morning), but last Sunday as we were studying 1 John 2:29, this is what we learned: "If you know that He [that is, the Father] is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him." Everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him. This is the first time in his letter that John describes the believer as having been born of God. But this won't be the last time. In fact, some ten times in 1 John alone, John uses this picture, and he does the same thing in his gospel, because John sees this idea of being born again at the very center of the Christian faith and the Christian gospel.

And so, let me ask you this morning, and I really want you to ask this question of your own soul: Have you been born again? Have you been born again? If you have not been born again, then I can tell you on the authority of God's Word, that you do not belong to the kingdom of God, that you do not have eternal life, that your sins have not been forgiven. If, on the other hand, you can say honestly, "Yes, Tom, I have been born again", let me ask you this question: Do you really understand what it is that has happened to you? Do you understand what that even means?

This concept is so important, it is so foundational, that today I want to pause our study of 1 John and I want to study it together. Here's really the question: How can someone who is God's enemy, someone who is born in sin, someone who, as Jesus described, all people are "children of the devil" - how can someone who lives in the darkness, in a pattern of sin, who lives as an enemy and a rebel against God, how can that person ever come to know the perfectly holy God who is our Creator?

The answer is something has to happen first. God must change that person's very nature. There must be, first, a pervasive radical change. And that change, theologically, is called regeneration. Here's how it works. When you were saved - think back to the day when you came to know Jesus Christ. On the day that you were saved, you either heard or you read, or you remembered the biblical gospel. You remembered the facts about Christ and how He had come and died and was raised again and how, by repenting and believing in Him, you could be saved. You heard the gospel. That's what theologians call the general or the external call. Every time you hear the gospel of Jesus Christ, there is an external call, a summons to say, "Come, believe, repent, receive this gospel.

But on the day that you were saved, it was different because, perhaps, you'd heard the gospel many times before but, in that moment, on that day, God spoke through the gospel to powerfully, irresistibly call you or, better, to summon you, to summon you to Himself. That's what theologians call the internal or the effectual call. And by that internal call, God summoned you out of spiritual death and by the creative power of His Word, He gave you spiritual life. That's regeneration. And it's that radical change that I want us to study together this morning.

Now, we're going to look at several texts, but I want to frame our study in just one of them, and that is in John 3. Go back to John's gospel and chapter 3. Let me read for you the first eight verses. You follow along. John 3, beginning in verse 1. Of course, this is Jesus' interaction with Nicodemus. Let's read it together.

"Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, 'Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.' Jesus answered and said to him, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.' Nicodemus said to Him, 'How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born, can he?' Jesus answered, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.'"

Now, let me just begin by telling you that I am a bit frustrated this morning because this text deserves a series of sermons. And we're going to cover it in one. My goal this morning is not to work through this text in a sort of expositional way, as we would do if we were studying John's gospel. Rather, my goal this morning is to draw out of this passage, in our Lord's teaching, His explicit teaching here about this issue of regeneration. As we look at it together, we're going to learn four crucial details about this miraculous, radical change that is regeneration.

So, let's look at these details together. The first one is this: the necessity of regeneration. The necessity of regeneration. Look at verse 7: "Do not be amazed that I said to you, 'You must be born again.'" Literally, the Greek text says, "It is necessary for you to be born from above." It is necessary for you to be born from above. So, it is necessary, Jesus says. First of all, it is necessary for everyone. In the Greek text, in verse 7, the pronoun "you" is plural. Jesus is not just addressing Nicodemus in this statement. It's plural. It includes all the Jews. You must be born again. But remember, John wrote his gospel, not to the Jewish people, but to the entire world. And so, John's point in quoting Jesus here is that regeneration is necessary for Nicodemus, it's necessary for all the Jews, it's necessary for the whole world, it's necessary for you.

You understand that? You need to be born again and so do I. It is necessary. And we see that even more when we consider the person and the nature of the person to whom Jesus said these words. He's speaking, remember, to Nicodemus and when we think about Nicodemus, when we think about the sort of spiritual advantages Nicodemus has, we're reminded that this issue of regeneration is necessary in spite of those spiritual advantages. Just think about this text and this person called Nicodemus. Regeneration is necessary in spite of a connection with God's people. Remember verse 1 says, he is "of the Jews". He's connected to the people God chose. He's one of the chosen people.

It's necessary, in spite of a confession of the true God. As a practicing Jew, Nicodemus would have recited the Shema - that great confession of God as the only God, as Yahweh being my God. He would have done that every day.

Regeneration was necessary in spite of the fact that Nicodemus was a moral, outwardly righteous person. He lived a moral lifestyle. Notice verse 1 says he "was a man of the Pharisees". You remember, that when Jesus quoted the Pharisee in his story in Luke 18, He gives the Pharisee - He puts in the Pharisee's his mouth a string of claims about all the things he doesn't do and all the things he does. He basically says, "I live a morally righteous life. It's like Paul in Philippians 3. He says, "When it came to the law, I was blameless. The external observance of the law - I was perfect."

Nicodemus was like that, but he needed to be born again. He was theologically conservative. He was a Pharisee. The Pharisees were those who were devoted to the entire Old Testament Scripture, who were rigorous in their conservative theology, and holding to what the Scriptures taught. So, he had a great theological system. It was flawed, as Jesus pointed out, but it was traditional. It was conservative. He needed to be regenerated in spite of that. Nicodemus needed to be regenerated in spite of a deep knowledge of the Scripture. He could have won any sword drill that you want to enter into. Notice verse 10. Jesus calls him "the teacher of Israel". In other words, Nicodemus was the foremost teacher in Judaism in the first century. There was nothing about the Old Testament that he didn't know. He had likely memorized at least the first five books, the Books of the Law, and likely much more of the Old Testament. He knew the Bible, but he needed to be born again.

He also had a respect for Jesus. Verse 2, he identifies himself to Jesus and says, "Rabbi". That was a collegial term of respect. He's indicating his respect for Jesus. He had a recognition that Jesus was from God. Verse 2 says, "we know that You have come from God". He had an appreciation for Jesus' teaching and Jesus' wisdom: "we know that You have come from God as a teacher". He had a belief in Jesus' divinely received power. Verse 2 says, "for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him." He believed the miracles and he believed that God was the one enabling Jesus to work those miracles and he had a desire to learn from Jesus. I mean, after all, verse 2 says, "he came to Jesus by night". Why? To learn from Jesus how to be right with God. In his own way, according to his own way of thinking, he wanted Jesus' instruction.

So, think about all those things. Think about all those spiritual advantages. But in spite of every single one of those, he still needed to be born again. Why? Why is it necessary for everyone and why is it necessary in spite of all of those spiritual advantages?

It's necessary, thirdly, because, by nature, we are unable to interact with God. We are, first of all, spiritually blind. By nature, we are spiritually blind. Verse 3: "Jesus answered and said to him, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot..." And this Greek word, by the way, is the word "dunamai". It means to have the power, to have the capacity, to have the ability. He says, "...unless one is [you are] born again he cannot [do not have the ability, the power to] see the kingdom of God." Jesus likely means that, apart from the new birth, we cannot appreciate, spiritually understand, grasp the spiritual kingdom that God's true people belong to.

And you see this with Nicodemus. Look at chapter 3:4: "Nicodemus said to Him [Jesus], 'How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born, can he?'" Now, give Nicodemus a little credit here. He's the teacher in Israel. He's a very intelligent man. So, he - I don't believe he's saying, "You know, you want me to be physically born again?" No, I think he understood Jesus was talking about a spiritual rebirth. But he's saying, "Look, I'm an old man. I've lived a long life. I've accumulated a lot of sin and a lot of debt. How do you start over again?" He can't be - go back into your mother's womb and begin it all again. How exactly do we encounter the spiritual rebirth?

He didn't get it. Verse 9: "Nicodemus said to Him [Jesus], 'How can these things be?'" Nicodemus, for all of his knowledge of the Scripture, didn't really understand it. Why? 1 Corinthians 2:14: "But a natural man [a man who hasn't experienced regeneration] does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he [here's our word] cannot [he does not - dunami, have the capacity to] understand them, because they are spiritually appraised." 2 Corinthians 4:4 says unbelievers, those who have not been regenerated, who have not experienced the new birth, are blind to the glory of Jesus Christ in the gospel. They don't see it.

We look at Christ and we sing those songs we sang this morning, "I'd rather have Jesus than anything". We sing those songs. "I love you more than any than anything else and more than I ever have". And to us who know Him, it makes perfect sense. To the unbeliever, it makes no sense. Why would you say that? They're spiritually blind. We need rebirth because we're spiritually blind.

It's necessary also because we are only flesh. Verse 6: "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." What Jesus is saying is our human nature does not have the capacity or power to produce spiritual life. Only God's Spirit can do that. That's why in chapter 1:13 John writes, "[the children of God] were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but [born] of God." That's our problem is we are by nature unable to interact with God, to know God. We are only flesh. We've been born only into our sinful human nature, and we don't have the capacity to change that, only the Spirit can.

A third reason it's necessary, because of our nature, is that in our nature we are marked by complete spiritual inability. Look at verse 5: "Jesus answered, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot [dunamai. He does not have the power to] enter into the kingdom of God." That is the most shocking statement of all. Unbelievers do not have the ability to enter God's kingdom. Jesus puts it this way. Look over at chapter 6:44. He says, "No one [that's a categorical negative - not a single person] can [dunami - has the power, has the ability to] come to Me [that's shorthand for 'come to Me for salvation'. No one has the power to come to Me for salvation] unless [this is the one exception] the Father who sent Me draws him..." Jesus says, "No one has the power or ability to approach Me for salvation unless the Father draws him." And that word "draws" is used in the New Testament of dragging someone to jail. Unless the Father irresistibly compels him to come, we cannot come to Christ for salvation on our own. Why? Because we're powerless.

And why were we powerless when we heard the gospel to come to Christ? Why couldn't that happen? It's because, number 4, because by nature we are spiritually dead. We are spiritually dead. Ephesians 2:1. Paul says, "And you were dead in your trespasses and sins..." Dead - spiritually. Dead, with reference to God. Chapter 4 of Ephesians, verse 18: You are "excluded [separated] from the life of God". So, if we are dead, what does that require if we're ever to know God? Regeneration. God must give us spiritual life.

I've often used an illustration to show just how badly most Christians think about all of this. And I'm going to share it with you again because, frankly, I haven't found one that I like better or that communicates the truth any clearer. When the average Christian and you can quiz yourself here - when the average Christian thinks of the need to be saved, he typically thinks of salvation like this. We're all on a ship, floating through an endless ocean. And we, as the sinner, have accidentally fallen overboard. And we suddenly find ourselves treading water in a huge, endless ocean, in the middle of a raging storm. Our situation seems hopeless and our only hope for salvation, our only hope of rescue, is if God will throw us the life preserver. And in most people's thinking, this is what God does with the gospel. God is, as it were, on the deck and He hurls the life preserver out into the water, hoping that we will be able to get it and we'll choose to get it. And there it is, floating in the water. And over the waves we finally see, and we see the life preserver. And so, we fight and swim and claw our way back to that life preserver. And then, having fought our way there, we lock our arms around it. And then God on the deck halls us into safety using the life preserver that is the gospel, thrilled that we were able to make it to the life preserver.

Folks, nothing could be farther from the truth. Instead, the person I've just described, caught at sea, floating hopelessly in the middle of the storm, is already dead. He's dead. He has no ability to see his rescuer. He cannot fight his way to the life preserver. He has no strength to lock his arms around the truth that will rescue him. Instead, he is sinking hopelessly, with no ability to aid in his rescue. In fact, he's completely unaware that he's even in danger. He doesn't even know that he needs to be saved. Why? Because he's dead. And it's worse than that. He's not dead, floating there in the water, because he accidentally fell overboard. No, he's dead because in stubborn, resolute defiance against the gracious standards of the generous captain, he purposefully jumped off the ship because he would not have anyone else tell him what to do. And now, he finds himself dead, floating in the water. Folks, that was our true condition when God found us.

Ephesians 2:5: "even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved) ..." Regeneration is necessary for everyone because we were blind, we're only flesh, we are marked by complete spiritual inability and, apart from Christ, we are spiritually dead. No wonder Jesus says, "You must be born again."

There's a second detail, back in our text in John 3 about regeneration, and it's the nature of regeneration. What is regeneration? Well, let's look at it several different ways. First of all, let's begin, as we look at the nature of regeneration, by considering some theological definitions. Here in John 3 Christ refers to it twice, in verse 3 and verse 7, as being "born again". The theological word for born again is regeneration. You get it - to generate, to be born, regeneration, that's to be born again - regeneration.

The actual word regeneration occurs only twice in the New Testament - the Greek word. The first time it's in Matthew 19:28. There, Jesus talks about the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne. There, it is the renewal of the world at the Second Coming of Jesus preparing for His earthly reign - the Millennium.

But the other time it's used is in Titus 3. Turn there with me - Titus 3 and look at verse 5. Here, Paul writes, "He [God] saved us [He rescued us], not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy [how did He save us? Here it is], by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit..." In other words, he says, we are saved, we are rescued by this miraculous activity called regeneration, by the new birth. And notice he describes it here in two ways. It is "washing" and it is "renewing". Keep those two words in mind because we're going to see them in another place - washing and renewing. What regeneration then is, is this internal, spiritual renewal that washes and renews us. It's part of the application of redemption to our individual lives. So, to regenerate then means to impart life - a renewal of life.

Here's a theological definition. This comes from "Biblical Doctrine", edited by the faculty the Master's Seminary. Listen carefully. This is a long definition but stay with me. This is regeneration: "In the exercise of His sovereign pleasure, God issues an effectual call in the heart of the elect. He powerfully summons the sinner out of his spiritual death and blindness, and by virtue of the creative power of His Word, imparts spiritual life to him, giving him a new heart, along with eyes to see and ears to hear [and listen to this] and thus enabling him to repent and believe in Christ for salvation. This is the divine miracle of regeneration or the new birth."

Now, that's a long definition, but let's break it apart a little bit. Let's look at, secondly... We've seen the theological definitions. Let's look at the biblical descriptions. The Bible describes this reality using three pictures or three images. The first is creation. Regeneration is like recreation. 2 Corinthians 5:17: "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come." If you have been born again, it's like God recreated you. In Galatians 6:15, we are "a new creation". Ephesians 2:10: "...we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus..." Ephesians 4:24: "[our] new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth." So, the first picture of regeneration the Scripture uses is creation. It's like you've been created all over again.

The second picture is resurrection. Resurrection. This is Ephesians 2. After he talks about our being dead, he says in Ephesians 2:4-5, "But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ..." Again, if you have been saved, if you've experienced the new birth, if you've experienced this radical transformation, not only is it like you've been recreated, it's like you were dead and, in a moment, you were brought to life. Colossians 2:13: "When you were dead in your transgression ... He made you alive together with Him [Christ]..."

The third picture the New Testament uses is birth. And that's the image used here in our text in John 3 so let's see how that image unfolds. And having considered then the biblical descriptions as well as the theological definitions, let's continue to look at the nature of regeneration and consider some key characteristics of regeneration.

What are the characteristics that mark this miraculous change? First of all, it is a divine act. It is a divine act. Notice verse 3 of John 3. Jesus says, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." Verse 7: "Do not be amazed that I said to you, 'You must be born again.'" Now, if you have a version of Scripture that has the marginal notes in it, you'll see that in both cases, next to born again, it says "or born from above". It could mean either. It could mean born again or it could mean born from above. I think with John's penchant for double meaning, something he does throughout his gospel, I think he intends us to understand both meanings. So, we are born from above, that is, it's supernatural. It's something God does. And we are born again, that is, it is a second birth. It's separate from our physical birth. It's a spiritual birth.

But don't miss the main point. In using the metaphor of birth, Jesus' main point with Nicodemus and with us, is that we have nothing to do with our new birth, just like we had nothing to do with our first, physical birth. J.I. Packer, writing in "The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology" puts it this way, "Infants do not induce or cooperate in their procreation and birth. No more can those who are dead in trespasses and sins prompt the quickening operation of God's Spirit within them." In other words, God alone regenerates. In other aspects of salvation, we do participate. I mean, God doesn't repent for us. He gives us repentance as a gift, but we repent. God doesn't believe for us. He gives us faith according to Ephesians 2, as a gift and we believe because He gives it to us as a gift, but we believe. But in regeneration, we are entirely passive. We don't do anything; God does something to us. Theologians refer to this as regeneration being monergistic. "Mono", meaning one and "erg" is a unit of work. So, monergistic means "one working". In regeneration, there's only one person working, and it's God. We don't cooperate with Him in regeneration. It's something He does alone. It is a divine act.

Secondly, it is a sovereign act. Verse 8: "The wind blows where it wishes..." Literally, the Greek text says, "where it wills". The wind blows where it wills to blow. Now, I have to say, as I was walking from my car to the worship center this morning, I thanked God for the wind that was blowing because you got a living illustration of what Jesus is talking about here. You were trying to keep your hair in place, if you have any, or you were, you know, you were trying to, you know, make sure that nothing blew away and you felt the effects of the wind. Jesus here compares the Spirit's work in the new birth to the wind. You can't control the wind. You can't control the actions of the wind. And you can't control the actions of the Holy Spirit in the new birth. He's sovereign. He blows where He wills. He decides to regenerate whom He will and the rest of the New Testament says it's only those on whom the Father set His eternal love, in the past. And first, or excuse me, the first chapter of Ephesians calls them the elect. He decides what the Spirit does to regenerate them when He will, in His time. The point is: it's the Spirit's sovereign work. He does it when he decides to do it.

Back in the 1970s (some of you were old enough to remember this), it was popular to tell people you need to be born again, even as you were evangelizing, you'd say, "You need to be born again!", as if that was something they could do. But when Jesus used those very same words with Nicodemus, He did it to show Nicodemus that he was in fact incapable of being born again. The heart change that was necessary for him to enter the kingdom of God, he had no power to accomplish. Sinclair Ferguson puts it this way, "As well to tell a lame man to walk, a blind man to see, as to tell a dead man to live. A man without spiritual life to have it or to say, 'You must be born again'". Ferguson goes on to say, "There is a paradox in the gospel at this point, for we discover that the one thing needful is almost the only thing outside our power to perform." You must be born again, but guess what? You can't. The Spirit accomplishes it when and where He chooses, just like the wind. It's a sovereign act.

Thirdly, it's a gracious act. It's a gracious act. "Where it wishes", "where it wills" - that's the wind. But the Spirit's the same way - where He wills. God didn't decide to do this based on anything in us, but only His gracious decision. That's why in Ephesians 2, listen to it again, verse 5: "even when we were dead in our transgressions, [God] made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved) ..." How did you come to be made alive if you're a Christian? It wasn't because, you know, God was looking down, watching your life develop and said, "Man, there's one I've got to have. He or she is just so special. My kingdom will not work without him. I need him." No! It was solely the grace of God. In other words, the only thing that moved God to give you new spiritual life is because of that, in God, which finds joy and delight in doing good to those who deserve exactly the opposite. That's His grace. And He said, "Because of who I am, give that one life." It's gracious. 1 Peter 1:3 puts it like this, "...according to His great mercy [God] has caused us to be born again..."

Number 4: it's a mysterious act. Look at verse 8: " hear the sound of it, but [you] do not know where it comes from and where it is going..." You see the effects. I mean, this morning, as you were walking to the worship center and the wind was blowing past you, you didn't see the wind. You saw the effects of the wind. You saw the trees gently swaying in the wind. You felt the breeze against your face. You felt your hair move. You saw the effects of the wind. But there's something mysterious about the wind. Even in our day, we understand basic concepts of how wind patterns develop, but there's still a mystery to it. You can't tell where it comes from, where it's going. There is also an element of mystery to the new birth. We don't know exactly how God effects this change or always when He effects this change. It can't be reduced to a test tube in a laboratory.

Now, there are times when a Christian is confident of the day and hour he was regenerated. This is especially true if you were saved as an adult. You know, you lived a life of sin, and you came to understand the gospel and boom you believed and there were changes all over the place. And so, you can look back and say, "I know when I was regenerated. I know the basic time when that happened." But for others, especially those who grew up in Christian homes, it's hard. It's hard to know exactly when regeneration took place. There's a certain mystery to it. But, whenever you experience the new birth, one moment you were dead and the next moment you were alive, and there were always the effects of the Spirit's work. You saw the stirrings of life. You saw the results of what He did.

So, as we've considered the nature of regeneration, we've seen the definitions, we've seen the biblical descriptions, we've seen the key characteristics. That brings us then to the heart of it and that is the specific elements. Exactly what is regeneration? Well, Jesus defines it. He mentions two elements of the new birth in verse 5. John 3:5: "Jesus answered, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is [here it is] born of water and [two, born of] the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.'"

So, first of all, the first element of regeneration is to be born of water. Now, what is that? Some think that this is a reference to natural birth, that Jesus when He uses the word "water", is speaking of the amniotic fluid in the womb. Well, that doesn't fly because there's no reference like that in the rest of Scripture and that's not how the ancient world spoke of it either. That's more of a modern reality. Others say water here refers to baptism. But Jesus doesn't say baptism. He says water. And at this point there was no Christian baptism. Nicodemus had heard nothing of baptism, and yet, Jesus expected this leading teacher in Israel to understand what He's talking about and in fact, in verse 10, Jesus gently chastens Nicodemus for not knowing.

So, here's the question: what would have come to Nicodemus' mind, the teacher in Israel, from the Old Testament he was so familiar with when Jesus mentioned water? There's only one answer. In the Old Testament, water was always a symbol of purification. So, Jesus was telling Nicodemus that to enter the kingdom he first must have a new birth that cleansed him, that purified him, from his sins. You must be born of water.

And, secondly, you must be born of the Spirit. The new birth - "What you need, Nicodemus, is accomplished in you and in whomever, by the Holy Spirit." Look down at verse 8. Jesus says, "born of the Spirit". Jesus was teaching Nicodemus that to enter the kingdom, he was entirely dependent on the Spirit of God, as we were dependent on our parents for our first birth. We don't enter the kingdom when and where and how we decide to. It's ultimately the Spirit's decision and He alone accomplishes our birth. We're born of the Spirit.

Now, Jesus' comments here are drawn from a key Old Testament passage. Turn back to Ezekiel, the prophet Ezekiel, chapter 36. Here is the new covenant promise. It's describing a day when this new covenant will become a reality in the nation of Israel, at the end before Jesus returns. But notice how he describes here regeneration, in verses 25 to 27. Now, you'll notice six times in this text, as we work our way through it, Jesus, the Father rather, God says, "I will, I will, I will". That's the emphasis.

Now, in verse 25 of Ezekiel 36, the phrase Jesus used in John 3, "born of water", is explained. Look at verse 25: "Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness [your moral corruption] and from all your idols." In regeneration, God cleanses us from our moral defilement and all of our idolatry. And we're all idolaters. As Calvin said, "The human heart is an idol factory." We find everything but God to worship. So, there is this cleansing from sin. That's the first specific element or component of regeneration.

Now, verses 26 and 27 of Ezekiel 36 explain Jesus' phrase "born of the Spirit". Look at verse 26: "Moreover, I will give you a new heart [the heart here is your entire nature, the nerve center of who you are as a person] and put a new spirit within you [a new understanding, a new grid for seeing the world]; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh [instead of your hard, stubborn, rebellious heart, I'm going to give you a soft, pliable heart]". Verse 27: "I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances." There's what it means to be born of the Spirit. In regeneration, the Spirit recreates us with new spiritual life. He comes to live within us. He gives us a new heart that loves God and loves others and that guarantees are growing obedience to God - "I will cause you to walk in My statutes". That's regeneration. That is the nature of regeneration. You must be born of cleansing - cleansing from sin - and born in the creation of new spiritual life.

Thirdly and briefly, let's consider the cause of regeneration, the cause of regeneration. First of all, what are not the causes of regeneration? Look at John 1. John 1:12-13: "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name [now, notice this], who were born [here we're talking about the new birth. They were born], not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God."

Notice, there are three things there that are not the cause of our regeneration. First of all, the cause is not our human descent or ancestry. "Bloods" - that's what it means. Your - those you descend from. That's what the Jewish people thought. If they were, if they had the blood of Abraham flowing in their veins, they were good. They were in. And John says, "Not so fast! No, that's not true! It's not based on human descent or ancestry. That's not the cause of the new birth." Secondly, it's not human works or religion. "Nor the will of the flesh" - that is what man, in his fallenness, decides to do. It's not human works or religion. And, thirdly, it's not human decision - "nor the will of man". Those are not the causes of regeneration, the new birth.

So, what are the causes of regeneration? Well, the ultimate cause is the will of the Father. Look at verse 13, John 1:13. We were born, notice, by the will of God. That's the ultimate cause. James 1:18 says, "In the exercise of His will He brought us forth [God birthed us] ..." 1 Peter 1:3: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope..." The ultimate cause is the will of the Father.

So, in a sense, theologians are right then to call this grace of regeneration "irresistible", that is, it's going to happen. Now, don't misunderstand. That doesn't mean it's against your will, that God drags you kicking and screaming to Christ. No! He makes you willing. The Westminster Confession puts it this way: "We come most freely, being made willing by His grace." How does God make us willing? He removes our blindness and suddenly we see the ugliness of sin, and we see the beauty of Christ in the gospel, and we willingly come. So, the ultimate cause is the will the Father.

The efficient cause is the work of the Spirit. God, the Father, does this through the agency of His Holy Spirit. Look at John 3:5, 6, 8. All three verses, he says "born of the Spirit", "born of the Spirit", "born of the Spirit".

The instrumental cause is the Word of God - the instrument the Spirit uses. James 1:18: "In the exercise of His will He [God] brought us forth by the word of truth..." By the word of truth - by means of God's Word. 1 Peter 1:23: "for you have been born again ... through the living and enduring word of God." Specifically, the instrument is the gospel message. Romans 10:17: "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ [by hearing the message about Christ]." So, the instrument that the Spirit uses is the gospel.

One final detail, just to mention briefly, has to do with the results of regeneration. The results of regeneration. We've seen the cause. Now, let's look at the results. In regeneration, we are changed at every level. But let me just spell out some of the results.

First of all, God cleansed the defilement of our hearts. We just saw that in Ezekiel 36. God cleansed the defilement, the pollution of sin, in our hearts. Secondly, God enabled us to enter His kingdom by faith. Remember, Jesus says you cannot enter into the kingdom unless you're born again. So, when we're born again, guess what? We enter the kingdom. We're enabled to enter the kingdom. Thirdly, God enabled us - and this will come as a surprise to some of you - God enabled us, through regeneration, to believe in Christ. Look back at John 1 again and the end of verse 12 and the end of verse 13. Let me read it literally to you from the Greek text, okay? Here it is. You follow along, let me read it. "The ones who are believing into His name, these not out of bloods, nor out of the will of the flesh, nor out of the will of man, but out of God they were born."

Did you hear the verb tenses? Those who are believing, were born. The verb tenses are intended to communicate the one happens before the other. The reason we are believing is because we were born. They imply that regeneration happens before we exercise faith in the gospel. In other words, you never would have believed the gospel if God hadn't made you first alive. That means that, not in terms of time - don't think about this as time. When you're saved, the moment of salvation, at that very moment, you experienced the new birth, you repent, you believe, you're justified. All of those things happen in a moment of time. But, theologically and logically, there's an order to them. And regeneration comes logically and theologically before saving faith and is what enables us to believe. We were not born again because we believe. We believe because we were born again.

And John makes this very clear. We'll see it when we get there. In 1 John 5:1, listen to what he writes there. "Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God..." Everyone believing has antecedently, previously, logically been first born out of God. We believe because we've been born of God. It makes sense, right? How does a dead person respond to the truth when they're blind, dead, deaf to the Word of God? The only way is if regeneration logically comes first.

Number four: God enabled us to obey Him and to avoid a life of sin. Now, what we're studying in 1 John makes sense, right? Listen to 1 John 3:9: "No one who is born of God practices sin, because His [God's] seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God." John doesn't mean that true believers are perfect. He's already said we sin, and we confess our sins. What he means is that if you've been truly born of God, if you've experienced this radical change in the new birth, you can't continue to live in a life that's dominated by sin because you have been changed. You are a new creation in Jesus Christ. You still have the flesh, which you battle, but you're a new person in Christ.

And number five, the fifth result is: God enabled us to love others. 1 John 4:7: "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and [here it is] everyone who loves is born of God and knows God." That's why this is one of the tests, right, in 1 John to love other people? Because it happens out of the new birth. These results, folks, are absolutely crucial because they demonstrate the reality of regeneration. You can't see the wind, but you can see its effects. You can't see your regeneration, but you can see its effects. And these are the effects. These are the results that will always be there. It's impossible to be born of God and not changed in these ways. That's why these are such powerful tests in John's first letter. It all grows out of this concept of the new birth.

So, let me ask you again, now that we've studied the issue together, have you been born again? Have you been born again? If not, you say, "What do I do? I just learned that the new birth is sovereign. It's a decision of the Spirit. So, what can I do?" And the answer is in the first beatitude where Jesus says, "Blessed are the poor [beggars] in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." You see, what you can do is come to God acknowledging your hopeless situation and crying on Him to save you, to change you, to give you a new heart. And if you do that, that will be evidence on its own that God is, even this morning, summoning you through the gospel you've heard.

If you've already been born again, then you need to continue living like one who has been born again. May these results grow in your life. But let me tell you something else. You and I also need to live a life of thanksgiving and praise. Listen to Peter again. Listen to 1 Peter 1:3: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead..." Blessed be God who gave us the new birth. You and I should spend every day of our lives saying, "God, thank You for that sovereign, gracious act in which You gave me life. I didn't deserve it. You had every right to pass me by, to condemn me forever to the judgment I had earned. But in Your Grace and mercy, You made me alive." By grace, you have been saved.