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The New Birth



What is the New Birth?  How is it effected by God? What happens inside the believer? How does this great occurrence lead to our becoming what God wants us to be?

If man were not a sinner, he could not be saved, and he would have no need of salvation.  But then, God's Word clearly states that "all have sinned and come short of the glory of God." (Rom. 3:23) So every human being ever born is a sinner; there are no exceptions. To be saved means that God reaches down and does something to the individual that turns him from a course of destruction to a course of safety.  A picture of this could be a drowning man who is thrown a life jacket and then pulled to shore by a lifeguard.  The drowning man cannot save himself; the power to save him is in the lifeguard's hands. Likewise, as sinners, we cannot save ourselves or be reconciled to God; it is all in God's hands.  We call God's Will and Power to save: Grace.

The Bible teaches us that in a sense the entire human race is drowning -- going down to destruction -- because of sin which brought about separation from a Holy God.  Our father, Adam, introduced sin to the entire human race, and with it spiritual death.  And for that reason, the entire human race is fallen and in need of saving.  Spiritual death results in eternal separation from God; it was God Who made a way to reverse that process.  For man can do nothing to redeem himself from his sinful state. We are all lost sinners going down to destruction, hopelessly and helplessly without God, unless God Himself intervenes.

God ordained from the beginning that He would make a way for man to be saved from the destruction to which his fallen state takes him, and to be reconciled to Him.  But first God had to get man's attention and make man aware of his sorry fallen state. Salvation is so set up that one cannot get saved unless he inwardly becomes aware of his lost condition and turns to God for help.  This is the purpose of God's law.  God introduced the law to the world through a chosen people: Israel, as recorded in what we call the Old Testament.  There were two parts to the law: the moral law and the ceremonial law. 

Ancient Israel knew that the moral law was given to them by their God Yahweh for righteous living, and that He meant for them to obey.  The penalty for breaking it was very severe, often physical death! The moral law instructs the conscience and consciousness of man in righteousness. They were not to have other gods before God; in other words, they were forbidden to practice idolatry.  They were to keep God's Sabbath, refrain from lying, stealing, committing adultery and murder.  They were to honor their parents.  And if they felt all these "external" laws were relatively easy to keep; He added another internal one: Thou shalt not covet. That is, they could not even desire that which was the property of another!

The other side to the law was the ceremonial law.  There were rites to be performed; sacrifices to be made; priests to perform priestly duties.  The ceremonial law was a way to atone for the breaking of the moral law, provided by a merciful and gracious God Who knew it would be broken by imperfect man.  In this sacrificial system, God made a way so that the sinner who broke the moral law could make atonement and would not have to suffer physical death by stoning, which was the penalty for breaking the law. The basis of the ceremonial law is this principle: "Without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sin."

As God's people wandered in the desert and later came to live permanently in the Promised Land He had given them, the law was the center of their life.  Their hearts and minds were focused on the law and the keeping of it, and they religiously carried out the rites that were necessary to atone when they broke the moral part of it.  And so the law became imprinted upon their minds and hearts. And with the law, sin became imprinted on their minds and hearts also.  So much so, they invented a great number of "hedge laws" to protect them from breaking God's moral law. To the Israelites the law was viewed as strictly external.  They believed that to externally keep the law was sufficient and made them right with God.

Romans 4:15 says something quite remarkable about this law that the Israelites put so much stock in.  "Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression." And, in Romans 7:5, "For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death."

So, we learn that the law brings death, because it makes sin manifest.  The conscience is defiled, because sin becomes the focus of it!  This was true of the Ancient Israelites, and it is true of those today who are intent on law keeping!  The law is good, and it is holy; but it brings forth the imputation of sin upon the soul, and the individual becomes conscious that he is indeed a sinner! Yet that is as far as the law can go; it cannot provide a remedy for sin.

It cannot be overstated: God gave the law to make sin manifest.  Romans 5:12, and 13: "Wherefore, as by one man (Adam) sin entered into the world, and death by sin, and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses (when the law was given) even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come."

The above passage is setting forth that God gave the law in order to make sin manifest in the sight of man, not to bring about the final result of salvation, but as an interim step to salvation! It was necessary for man to become conscious of his sin and resulting separation from God.  That the law was to accomplish.  The moral law pointed up the inability of man to refrain from doing wrong in God's sight.  It pointed up man's total depravity and his separation from God.  And as the moral law did its work of condemnation, the ceremonial law painted a picture of the sovereignty and provision of God -- promising that He would make a way of redemption!

Man is a lost sinner, and has been in that state since Adam.  But from Adam to Moses, and the giving of the law, man was not aware of his sin, and therefore he just went along in ignorance of any demands of God upon him, and any requirements for righteousness.  His conscience was not stamped with guilt, because there was no standard set before him to bring about guilt. Yet we are told "death reigned," meaning that sin had condemned the soul of man and he remained spiritually dead and separated from God in the curse that Adam had brought upon him.  He just was not aware that he fell short.  So God decreed to show him his need and make him guilty so that ultimately a remedy could be produced; and that is why He gave the law.  (Rom. 4:12-21)

The call to separate out a chosen people came upon Abraham, and to his descendants, Isaac and Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel.  The chosen people went into slavery in Egypt, where it became a great nation and was ultimately delivered through Moses.  With the giving of the law on Mount Sinai, a new era entered in, and Israel became conscious of sin and its accompanying condemnation.

On Mt. Sinai Israel received the ceremonial and moral law from God and began to believe that the law gave them right standing before God.  They did not know that the law was but an interim step leading to something -- and Someone --better and far greater. The law was given in order to make the righteous requirements of a Holy God manifest, by making sin -- that which separated man from God manifest -- but the law did not and could not provide a cure!  The ceremonial part of the law pointed to the cure, but it was not the cure.  The ceremonial law is a beautiful and graphic picture of God's Way of eventual redemption in the Person of His Son, Jesus Christ. The moral law condemns; the ceremonial law pictures redemption. A study of the types and shadows of the ceremonial law, by the way, is a complex study that is enriching, edifying and instructional in New Testament faith.

Let us return to saving the drowning man.  A drowning man knows he is drowning.  He goes under the water and it is sucked into his lungs and he cannot breathe.  He is terrified; he struggles; he fights; he flails his arms, and as best he can, cries out for help to whatever help may be available.

A lost sinner must become somewhat like the drowning man.  He must know he is a sinner; it must become a burden to him.  He must cry out for help.  He must flail his spiritual arms, and be fearful in his condition.  He must cry out to the only One Who can save Him.  He must turn, begin to hate unrighteousness, and turn to the One Who has the answer, the One Whom he has come to know through the law imprinted on his conscience to make his sorry condition manifest. The Bible calls it repentance; or coming under conviction.  This conviction is brought about by the righteous requirements of the law, which sinful man cannot live up to.

The law was given to the Israelites; and through them to the world.  Gentiles are made aware of the law by way of the Old Testament in their Bibles.  When we no longer teach the Bible, the moral law no longer enters into the consciousness and conscience of man and sin is no longer made manifest.  When the Ten Commandments are banned from public buildings and schools, our young people are not introduced to the law, unless they go to Bible-believing churches and/or have godly parents; and most in the world do not have these advantages.  When secular humanism is the philosophy of the day with its "do what feels good and what you can get away with" attitudes, the conscience and consciousness of mankind becomes filled with something other than God's law, and the manifestation of sin as God sees it does not occur.  When "sin" becomes a dirty word, and no-one is to be branded a "sinner," but only someone who "has a problem," we are in trouble.  When there is no "sin," only a "disease," that needs fixing, we have really degenerated back into heathenistic ways. Society today seems to be sinking deeper and deeper into depravity and a return to barbarism, devoid of God's law that would make sin  manifest and cause men to repent.

The Law is Our Schoolmaster

Ever wonder why Jesus said, "I came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it?" (Matt. 5:17) Can you see what He meant, as it becomes clear that the law was important in manifesting sin, but was not the remedy for sin? Proper understanding of this statement by Jesus would dispense with all the argument in religious circles about the law.  Many legalists use this verse to argue that we are still under the law because Jesus said he did not come to abolish it.  This is because they do not understand what He meant by "fulfill."

The prophets of the Old Testament began to speak of a New Covenant.  Jeremiah 31:31-34:

Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day [that] I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: But this [shall be] the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.

This prophecy, and others like it in the Old Testament, is speaking of the time when Jesus would fulfill the law by making a way for it to be written on the heart! This speaks of a spiritual fulfillment. He did not come to destroy the law; but to spiritually fulfill it.  New Testament living is not obeying laws, principles or edicts.  It is not being taught by others principles to live by.  It is following the leading of the Spirit that lives within the heart when one is born again.  And that is what Jesus made possible in fulfilling the law.

Galatians 4:23-25 says:

But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.  But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster [to bring us] unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.

There are many who would say that Paul was not speaking here to Gentiles, but to Jews, because only Israel was given the law.  Ultra dispensationalists deny that Gentiles ever have any dealings with the law at all.  Then why was this epistle of Galatians, written to Gentile believers who had come under the bondage of legalistic Judaizers, speaking of the law being "our" schoolmaster?  It is because, even though the ceremonial law was never given to the Gentiles to keep, it is a picture of redemption for everyone.  And even though the moral law was given in the Old Testament to Israel, it is a schoolmaster to Jews and Gentiles alike, because it instructs the conscience in the righteous demands of a Holy God! It in fact "buries" us under a mountain that we cannot ourselves remove! Remember that Romans 5:13,14 says that sin was in the world from Adam to Moses, but was not imputed until the law was given.  And death was the result of sin.  No one was an Israelite until Jacob's name was changed to Israel. Yet all up to Jacob suffered the same fate: condemnation and death because of sin. All come under the curse of spiritual death, whether Jew or Gentile, with or without the law.  But the interim step of the law was necessary in order to make sin manifest. This instruction from the moral law is for the Gentile as well as the Jew.  Paul makes it clear in Galatians 4 that the moral law does its work as a schoolmaster in all who are brought to God in Christ. Please understand that when Paul speaks of "the law," he is not separating the law into two parts: moral and ceremonial.  The "law of Moses" cannot be divided like that, which we will address in another study.

The Necessity of Repentance and the Failure of Self-Righteousness

Without repentance it is impossible for a man to be redeemed from his sin.  If man is not aware he has broken God's moral law, he cannot repent.  Self-righteous people, or people unaware there is a holy standard, do not repent and turn to God.   Bound up in man's acceptance of a moral law is the concept that man acknowledges there is a God and He is Holy. The moral law is a Holy God's Holy Standard for right living. But many see themselves as good and righteous, and in their pride, refuse to see their failure.  Right acceptance of the moral law and our failure to keep it produces guilt, which becomes a burden to us, bringing repentance and a turning to God for relief. This is the manner in which God uses the law as a schoolmaster or tutor to bring us to Himself.

Let us say that a man has been a liar, a cheat and a thief all of his life.  Somewhere in his life he has been exposed to the Ten Commandments, be it Sunday School as a child, or on his mother's knee, or in school -- somewhere. God's commandments are planted deep inside him, even though he may not be aware.  He grows older, and he begins to see himself as a liar, a cheat and a thief.  Why does he see himself this way? Because he knows what the law of God says about lying, cheating, stealing. He becomes convicted within, as God's Holy Spirit deals with him by bringing the law to his conscious state.  He begins to "see" himself as a sinner, and it becomes a burden to him.  The burden is manifested within in all sorts of internal problems: fear, frustration, confusion -- all because the law is doing a work within of stirring the man up. Somewhere at some time he may have heard about eternal damnation also, coupled with failure to keep the law.  His burden becomes greater and greater, and one day he cries out to a God he does not even know for help.  And God reveals what it is he must do.  He may reveal it through an evangelistic message or some other method, but it always lines up with His Word. At any rate, the man cries out for help, and God reveals to him -- Jesus, the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.  God brings the man to the Cross, and he is saved.  That is the way in which the law works as schoolmaster to lead us to Christ -- Gentile and Jew alike.

The New Birth

This is the New Birth: the law is given and does its work in the heart to bring sinful man to repentance.  Man turns to God for relief, because only God Himself can bring relief. God then reveals the Cross of Christ.  With a repentant heart, the sinner receives unto himself by faith God's propitiation for his sin: Christ and Him crucified.  By faith he is buried with Christ; by faith he dies with Christ at the Cross.  God does not "make over" the old person.  He creates anew, makes a new creation.  The sinner dies with Christ at the Cross and is raised with Christ in His resurrection.  (Romans 6) The old has passed away.  At the Cross dies the righteous requirements of the law, and the breaking of the law, and guilt over the breaking of the law.  At the Resurrection comes new life.  The man is then to count himself dead to sin and alive unto God.  He is given a new heart, because the old stony heart is cut away.  He is now a child of God -- yet a babe -- but nevertheless adopted into the family of God.  And so he is "born again." This is all the work of the Spirit. It is the Gift of God: His Grace.

Romans 6:3-11:

Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also [in the likeness] of [his] resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with [him], that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.  For he that is dead is freed from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him: Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The above passage is not speaking of water baptism by immersion, although what happens to a sinner at the time of conversion is beautifully pictured by water baptism.  Many preachers, when baptizing, say, when taking the person under the water, "Buried with Him in baptism," and then when bringing him up, "Raised to newness of life!" As long as we remember that baptism is a picture, and not the reality of the new birth, we do not get off base.  Nevertheless, if you go under the water a lost sinner, you will come up a wet lost sinner.  The change must occur in the heart, wrought by the Spirit!!

When we come to Christ and are born again, we are positionally in Christ from that point on.  We do not trust in our feelings, but in the truth of the Word.  God says in Christ our sin is gone; we are redeemed. The law has been taken down in Christ's crucifixion, and with it sin. We are to count ourselves dead to the old things and the old ways and alive to the new. In the New Birth our focus should become different.  Churches and Bible teachers should teach babes in Christ who they are in Christ and what their focus should now be.  They are not to wallow in sin or keep turning to some man for principles to live by.  They are not to remain sin conscious, trying to beat sin to death in themselves, and thereby remaining under the law.  Neither are they to be indifferent; indeed one cannot be indifferent to the things of God if he is truly born again. Some may fall away and resurrect the old dead self in practice, because they are poorly taught.  But this is not the Bible way. Many teach that one can be redeemed and yet remain indifferent to God's Word and His Way; but God's Word does not bear that out! The redeemed, the born-again, are to live unto God, and indeed as babes in Christ they hunger to be fed of God.  It is a pity this Truth is not more widely taught; for if it were, Christians would not remain carnal babes for so long, or mistakenly believe it is alright to live for the Devil so long as by "accepting" Christ they avoid eternal hell.

New Creation Living

The life meant for a born again believer is a life led by the Spirit.  Christ's Spirit, the Holy Spirit, is what makes Him Lord in our lives.  If we are not being led of the Spirit, we are not submitting to Christ as Lord.  Of course, a new believer is probably not going to be very equipped to be led of the Spirit unless he sat for years learning the Bible before he was born again.  So the new Christian is to seek the Spirit-filled, and Spirit-led life, feeding on the Word of God.  He should study the Bible and seek God's application in his life. Then he is to put into practice what he learns.  The Spirit will never violate the Word of God; but the Spirit will properly interpret the Word of God in accordance to that believer's own life and struggles. 

The Word of God does not tell us that if we come to Christ our lives thereafter will be trouble free.  There is a sense in which an ordered life becomes less troubled as we learn to walk in the Light of God's Word.  God designed order in the cosmos, the universe and in the world.  It is rebellious man who refuses to live according to order and design, because of sin.  As we learn to lead ordered, balanced, righteous lives, making right choices according to God's will as He reveals it, our lives will be less confused and chaotic, and we will have peace and be blessed. The nine-fold fruit of the Spirit will develop within us. All this is known as "Growing in Grace."  Because, just as salvation is received by Grace, so is our development into maturity received by Grace.

Being led of the Spirit is not being led of the law.  We do not study the Bible merely to learn principles to live by.  We study the Bible to know the One Who gave us the Bible, and our focus is to be on Him.  As we behold His Beauty, His Righteousness, His Truth, His Ways -- that is, as we glorify Him -- we become more like Him. And thereby we are more sensitive to the leading of His Spirit within us.

This is not sinless perfection.  But we are not to focus on sin; we are to live unto God. When we do fall short, Jesus is there to intercede for us and we are already forgiven.  We confess our sin in order to bring it to light in ourselves, as we seek God's help in walking after the Spirit and not the flesh.  Most Christians believe that a Christian must come to God and beg forgiveness for sins committed, and until he feels forgiven he is not forgiven.  This is error and keeps one focused on Sin and sins, which is not God's way.  Remember this: a person who has never come to Christ to have his sin taken away is lost, whether he is good at law keeping or knows nothing of the law.  He is lost either way.  So when a Christian sins, he does not come to God and beg for forgiveness for that sin.  Christ has dealt with all sin at the Cross.  The believer is in Christ, so all his sins are forgiven.  But what the Christian does do is return time after time for cleansing.  His heart has to be turned back to walking after the Spirit; and that is impossible to do when there is unconfessed sin.  God must cleanse us before He fills us with Himself. John calls it restoring fellowship with God. (1 John 1) The Blood of Jesus continues to cleanse the Christian of sin, but the Spirit of Christ desires to teach us the way to walk, and unconfessed sin cannot be hidden. A Christian is to walk after the Spirit; so when he confesses his sin, he should pray at the same time that God will make his Spirit-led life more consistent, meaningful and sure.  And that God will help him to stay on the right path and walk in the Light.

The Fruit of the Spirit

A Spirit-led life will bring a Christian to maturity as he grows in grace.  A born again Christian begins as a babe; but he cannot remain that way.  As he learns the Word, is continually refilled and allows God's Spirit to apply the Word in his life, he will begin to grow to maturity.  This is what God desires and effects in the believer.

A Spirit-led life results in having the fruit of the Spirit manifest in that life.  A babe may struggle with carnal desires and feelings and may often "mess up."  But a more mature Christian will become aware of Christ in him, and as his heart is changed by the Spirit, his external actions will be manifested more and more in that direction.

The fruit of the Spirit is contrasted against the works of the flesh in Galatians 5:16-25. And please remember that one is walking in the flesh whether he is a moralist and good at law keeping, totally licentious, or anywhere in between.

[This] I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.
For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.
But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.
Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are [these]; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies,  Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told [you] in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.
Gal 5:24 And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.
Gal 5:25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.

If you will note from this passage, the works of the flesh are spoken of as outward actions, because one is following after his senses, and is being led to live in these divers manners.  But the fruit of the Spirit are given as conditions of the heart, because it is on the heart level that God deals with us.  Meditate on these fruit.  Jesus had them in full measure.  He had total love, peace, joy in his heart, and all of the other nine attributes of the Spirit.  This is what He walked after; this is how He was perfectly in tune with the Father.  The conditions of the world could not rob Him of His love, His joy, His peace, His gentleness, His faith, etc.  In the midst of all the problems He faced, and even on His way to the Cross, these fruit were manifest in Him. We can take a great lesson from Jesus.  He is our role model, our example.  If we are to be victorious, we must become like Him.  We must dwell in the Secret Place of the Most High, as the Spirit of God gives us power to go through anything.  This is a process and does not come overnight.  Nevertheless, to be like Jesus is our destiny.  II Cor. 3:18 says that we are being changed into the image of Christ from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.

I have had Christians tell me they have tried the Spirit-led life and find it too hard.  So they have returned either to living any way their flesh leads, or become legalistic moralists, or somewhere in between.  Nevertheless, they are not living in accordance to what the New Testament teaches is the normal Christian life.  Have you tried it?  As a born again babe, desire the milk of God's Word with the idea that later as you grow, you will move on to meat.  Chew on God's Word; let it take root in you.  Spend time alone with God, seek the ways He wishes you to serve Him,  and fellowship with other believers.  Seek to be filled with the Spirit.  When you do, you will receive Power from on High.  He tells us that if we ask Him for bread, He will not give us a stone, so we know if we ask Him for His leading into all Truth by His Spirit, He will freely give it as He freely gives us all His good things.  What it takes is submission to His will and not our own.

There is nothing a Christian can do to add to the work of Christ on the Cross.  But Christ works in the Christian to bring about that which He desires in him.  Christ is our very life! As we live unto God, submit our bodies as a living sacrifice and renew our minds on Truth,  He will bring about His Will in us. As we turn from the old ways and live as new creations in Christ, spiritual victory will be ours.

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Copyright 2005 Mary Cage. Permission is granted to freely use this article with proper credit given. The author requests that if used on a website, that a link be put to this site. Email the author with any questions or comments.