There are millions around the globe who have similar or other misunderstandings about what it means to be a Christian. Many falsely believe, as I once did, that it is just a matter of accepting the existence of God and Jesus… or acknowledging the legitimacy of Christianity and its philosophies. Others think it means to go to church, to join a denomination, to perform religious acts or abide by a set of Christian laws. While such things will likely become involved in one’s relationship with God, they alone are not sufficient.
There are also mistaken ideas that pool Christianity together with other philosophies… that “all religions lead to God,” or other false assumptions that everyone will go to Heaven when they die, as long as their good deeds during life outweigh the bad and so forth. Such ideas are completely false.
Christianity is not simply a philosophy, history, religion… nor is it merely a matter of the intellect, performing religious acts, or joining a particular church. Christianity, rather, is a “spiritual experience” based on a faith relationship between you and the Lord Jesus Christ. As Jesus said to Nicodemus, “I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3, 7).
This “New Birth” that Jesus described to Nicodemus, is the beginning of one’s Christian life that brings Salvation, a state of redemption that comes as a gift of God by faith (Eph 2:8-9). It occurs at the instant we effectively believe on Jesus Christ and confess Him as our Savior and Lord, “For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Romans 10:10). Jesus also described the New Birth as a conversion to infancy, explaining that new spiritual life begins as the fresh innocence of a little child, with a need to learn and begin to grow in new spiritual things. “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 18:3).
The New Birth, also referred to by theologians as “regeneration,” occurs as a result of what we often call “Saving Faith,” which means to believe in Christ, in what His life, death and resurrection did for us… “turning away from a lifestyle of sin” (repentance), and trusting Him to forgive and “save us” from the otherwise inevitable consequences of sin (Romans 6:23). We openly confess Jesus as our Savior and Lord… and we commit ourselves to follow Him, His life, teachings and example. As a result of this expression of faith, Christ comes within us bringing an inner peace of His presence and an assurance of eternal life.
The New Birth is a universal, essential spiritual experience for all followers of Christ, without which it is not possible to be a Christian. As the Apostle Paul said, “if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His” (Romans 8:9). The birth of God’s Spirit brings His life and presence into our spirit… and we are reborn, transformed, changed… by His new spiritual nature that now comes to dwells within. The Apostle Paul described the effects of the New Birth like this: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
“New life” is the hallmark of the born-again Christian. When Jesus comes in, old things pass away… our sins are washed and cleansed by Christ’s atoning blood and our former life becomes old history. Literally, “All things” become new to us… like a newborn baby. We are reborn with a new nature and desires… along with a hunger for God’s Word that intensifies our appetite to obey and please our Lord (1 Pet 2:2). One of our first acts of obedience should be to become baptized in water, a symbolic expression of repentance and regeneration… that is, dying to the old sinful life, and rising in the new life of Christ “And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord” (Acts 10:48). (See also 1 Pet 3:21)
“Transformation” is the greatest evidence of the New Birth. As we noted, God’s Spirit is birthed in our heart… and when His presence comes within, we become different people. Our thinking becomes new and different, along with our instincts, actions and desires. We inherit God’s nature… and as we continue to grow in Him, and allow ourselves to become “led” by His new Spirit within us, His characteristics will begin to bloom from our life… in the form of what the scripture calls fruit, as the Apostle Paul said “…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22-23).
This doesn’t mean that the processes and timing will be exactly the same for all new believers. Newness and change are indeed common denominators for all new Christians. When we make a deliberate decision to turn away from sin and follow Jesus, we will experience a growing, continuing desire to please the Lord and follow His ways (as shown through His Word). However we each will respond to our new faith in individual ways, unique to our own personality, and according the Lord’s separate plan for our life.
What if there is no immediate change? Don’t get in a hurry. The spiritual birth is immediate, but the transformation of our desires and behavior will be progressive thing… as we grow and submit ourselves to the Lord. Fruit is something that takes times to produce. We don’t expect apples, pears, grapes or other tasty fruits to suddenly appear overnight. Other than the obvious profession of faith that a new Christian makes known by openly confessing Christ as their Savior and Lord (Matt 10:32-33) and being baptized in water (Acts 2:38), it might take a bit of time for friends or family to notice other substantial differences.
The most noticeable immediate change will be to the new believer. If we indeed have genuinely decided to turn away from sin, to believe in and follow Jesus as our Lord and Savior, the birth of the Spirit will produce an awareness of newness in our heart… an inner “knowing” or a sense of “assurance” that salvation has occurred. “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16).
So… will all Christians experience this New Birth? Yes, to become a Christian REQUIRES the New Birth. It doesn’t matter whether a person is a Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Catholic, Pentecostal or anything else. The New Birth is not an option, nor a mere denominational distinctive… but rather is the universal means by which any person may become a Christian. Jesus himself said, “You must be born again” (John 3:7). In other words, the New Birth is the starting point, the entry level to Christianity. It is necessary to become saved (John 3:5)… or to become a “bone fide” Christian.
Secular writers or journalists will often distinguish “Born-Again Christians” as something different, as though a sect apart from mainstream Christianity… however they are one in the same. In other words, legitimate Christianity does not exist apart from the New Birth. It is not possible for someone to be a Christian without the indwelling of the Spirit of Christ. “Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His” (Romans 8:9). Again, we’re reminded that it was Jesus who stated, “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). (The reference to water here is thought to be either a metaphor of the water-breaking of childbirth or an association with water baptism.)