This is the act of re-creation. Literally, starting over, as though from the womb, as a new creature–a son or daughter in the family of God. Scripture uses the familial imagery of birth to illustrate the change in nature and the increasing resemblance to the family of God one undergoes through the gospel.
Rebirth is Jesus’ idea
This is no where better described than in a conversation between Jesus and a pharisee named Nicodemus in John 3:1-15.
Jesus makes the curious statement that “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Of course, Nicodemus had no clue what this meant. And to be completely honest, most people still find this to be rather confusing. You try and tell someone, who is not acquainted with Christendom’s verbage, that they need to be “born again”, and you’ll more than likely receive an irritated eye-roll or a pungent, “What the socks are you talking about?”
To be sure, Jesus said it. It is an immensely powerful picture of the reality of the gospel in the familia Dei. But more than any other familial metaphor in Scripture, it has been hi-jacked or diluted. My goal is to reclaim the beauty of the Spirit’s work in the gospel called rebirth.
An inclination toward disaster
The original condition of humanity, like a bull in a china shop, entails a fundamental disposition toward making a mess of thing. No matter how one is raised or how hard one diligently strives for success and perfection, every single person falls short of some standard. And despite the impopularity of this notion, God has set an infinitely higher standard than any other. So high, in fact, that the right response to it is to throw up one’s hands and confess that, because of the broken disposition of mankind, it is impossible.
Why we’re not screwed
So here we have a brief articulation of the gospel in Romans 8:3-4,
“By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us”
In other words, God’s standard did get met; only, Jesus did it and somehow because of that it is fulfilled in us. That is rebirth. The next clause in that verse is, “[us] who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” No longer do we have to “walk according to the flesh” – which is fundamentally disposed to sin – but “according to the Spirit”.
In Jesus’ conversation about rebirth with Nicodemus, he says, “that which is born of flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (Jn. 3:6). One walks “according to the Spirit” when one is “born of the Spirit”. What this has to do with is the the re-creation of humanity’s fundamental disposition. To be sure, those born of the Spirit still sin as long as they are alive. The difference is a new nature which has Christ’s perfection at its core.
The family of God
To back up…the family of God gloriously and mercifully expands through the Spirit’s regenerating a person’s basic disposition toward God. From “enemies of God” (Rom. 5:10) to “children of God” (1 John 3:1); such is the nature shift in the gospel as one is brought into the familia Dei.